A Road Not Taken - Part Four


Summer in Wheatland that year went by in a blur for Daniel. The foster family he'd been placed with after the Rogers left for Louisiana was nice enough, but the boy didn't have the heart to make the effort to try to connect with them. He'd been so close. He realized that the Rogers hadn't wanted to leave him behind - he'd been in the courtroom when it had been decided that another move so soon after the one that brought him to California wouldn't be in his best interests, only a previous threat to have him escorted from the room if he made another protest keeping him quiet - but still couldn't figure out why he wasn't allowed to keep the people he cared most about. He supposed he should just be happy the Rogers hadn't died. That would have just been too much to handle.

The only thing keeping Daniel in anything resembling good spirits was the fact that Jack wrote twice a week, letters filled with subtle encouragement and funny little stories describing the antics of the cadets after their more abbreviated break. Jack O'Neill had become the one constant in an otherwise ever-changing world. The only thing that would make it better was if he lived closer to the eleven-year-old. But since he didn't, Daniel was determined to make it on his own. He wouldn't depend on anyone... well, anyone but Jack. And since he couldn't be there, Daniel would do it alone.

When school started again in the fall, Daniel found himself in the same social situation he'd been in the semester before. He was too advanced for the kids his own age yet considered too young to really connect with the kids in his class, even as part of the advanced track. More and more, books made up his world. He started to teach himself a couple of new languages, expanding his repertoire to thirteen. He silently attended class, his desk in the front corner of each class a world unto itself.

For whatever reason - Daniel chose not to examine things too closely - the young man still found himself caring about what went on around him, even if he didn't choose to get involved. And so it was he noticed the new girl that walked into his study hall just before lunch one day in late October. She was a little taller than most of the other girls in eighth grade, with long pale blonde hair and serious blue-grey eyes, and she wore a simple grey sweater and black dress slacks with a small duffle bag slung over her shoulder decorated by an embroidered Air Force logo. Mrs. Wilkins seated her in the empty desk next to Daniel, who finally looked up from his book on recent theories about the origins of the pyramids at the sound of the new girl putting her bag in the basket beneath her seat. He silently looked her over and felt an odd kinship with her - he figured it had something to do with the aura of sorrow she seemed to wrap herself in like a shroud.

Whatever it was, Daniel found himself faced with the urge to try to get to know this sad young lady better. However, he'd missed her introduction. He used his bookmark to mark his page to consider the problem, then retrieved one of his notebooks and wrote a short note:


"My name is Daniel Jackson, and I wanted to welcome you to Bear River Middle School and Wheatland. I just moved here myself in January, so I understand how it feels to be the new kid.

"If you ever want to talk or anything, let me know. We new kids need to stick together. Lunch is right after study hall, and I would be honored to have you sit with me. You don't have to, I won't mind. But the offer's there.

"I have English, Science, and Math in the afternoon. Maybe we'll have some more classes together. I hope so.

"I'm sorry to say I was reading and missed Mrs. Wilkins introducing you. I'd really like to know your name. But like I said before, if you don't want to tell me, that's okay. I understand. It's overwhelming to come in to a new school, especially in the middle of the day, and be expected to just fit in and know what's going on. I've done that before, and it's not fun at all.

"If you want to, write me back and let me know what you think. Otherwise I guess I'll see you tomorrow if not later in class.



The girl had pulled out a book about the history of the space program by the time Daniel had finished and folded his note. She jumped when the piece of paper accidentally brushed against her hand when Daniel discreetly slipped it onto her desk. She gave the boy a surprised look then opened the note, her eyes widening as she read it. When she finished, the young blonde shot him a shy glance, put the paper into her bag, and pulled out a notebook and pen of her own.

A few minutes later, Daniel, who had returned to his book in deference to his neighbor's privacy, heard the distinctive sound of paper sliding across his desktop. He looked across the aisle and saw the smile the girl wore as she opened her book once again. The young man couldn't help but mirror the expression as he unfolded her response.


"Thank you for welcoming me. I'm not used to that when I get to a new school. It's nice to know that you understand the feeling - you're right about how overwhelming the first day can be.

"I'd be happy to eat lunch with you. It'll be nice not to have to sit alone. And I have English, Science, and Social Studies this afternoon, so maybe we'll have at least two more classes together. I'm looking forward to Science.

"Could you meet me outside the study hall after this? The secretary that brought me here didn't have a chance to show me around, and I'm not completely sure where the cafeteria is. But if you have to take your books back to your locker or something, I'll understand. I'm sure I can find it on my own and will meet you there instead. Since we're in the front of the class it'll probably be pretty easy to just wait until the others leave and you can tell me then.

"Talk to you later,

"Sam Carter"

Daniel's smile widened as he folded the letter back up and put it in his back pocket. For the first time since the Rogers left he felt good about connecting with someone, taking a chance. He had a feeling this was going to be the start of something wonderful.

* * * * * * * *

Samantha Carter hurried to get her books together after school got out the Friday before semester finals and Christmas break. She needed to catch Daniel before he left for home to ask him if he wanted to get together to study either that night or some other time during the weekend. The girl paused in the act of zipping up the duffel bag her father had gotten her when she first started kindergarten, the realization that the thought of her friend made her truly smile - and want to smile - for the first time in a long time thoroughly surprising her. After a moment she just gave a little laugh and continued on her way.

Ever since Daniel had slipped her that first note on her first day at Bear River Middle School, she had found herself continually seeking out his company. Something about the quiet boy soothed her troubled soul, and he made an excellent study partner with the way he constantly challenged the way she thought, his intellect being equal to her own. In fact, she was beginning to think he was smarter than her, not that he'd ever admit it. They spent six out of eight class hours a day together, so she got to see the evidence on a daily basis.

This would be the first time she'd ever asked him to get together with her after school, however. Normally they just came to school early or stayed for a while afterward. Sam had thought about asking Daniel over a number of times over the past couple of weeks, and that day just seemed right. There was no one else she'd connected with at this school, and she had high hopes he'd say yes.

She turned the last corner and paused as she caught sight of her friend putting books into his backpack. Her burgeoning smile froze before it could form completely when she saw Doug Plank lean against the younger boy's locker, slamming it shut. "Takin' home the library, eh, Four Eyes?" she heard him ask clearly. What was going on?

Daniel sighed. "Let me get my jacket, Doug," he replied quietly. It was only then that Sam noticed the silence the confrontation had created.

"Come on, Four Eyes," Doug taunted, leering down from his head and a half advantage in height. "Don't you want to talk to me? Oh, that's right. You don't really talk much, do you? Your voice is as small as the rest of you." The larger child laughed derisively, causing a nervous twitter to ripple through the surrounding crowd. Sam was sure she heard a few more enthusiastic responses in the mix as well.

"I just want to go home. Please move."

Sam had to smile as she started to make her way over to her friend, fully prepared to back him up. There wasn't an ounce of capitulation in the tone, although the words seemed meek enough. Obviously Daniel didn't want to fight, but he wasn't about to let Doug just walk all over him.

The bully leaned in even closer to the smaller boy. "But I don't want you to go, Shrimp. So I guess you're not goin'." The only reason Sam heard the simple words spoken with such a menacing tone was because she'd managed to get a lot closer. Apparently she'd reached Doug's supporters, as nobody on either side of her made any kind of motion or sound of protest.

"What do you want, Doug?" Daniel asked, scowling. Violence was imminent, and still the boy refused to back down. Sam was proud of him.

"I'd ask for your lunch money, but I'm sure you've already used it. So, I think I'll just beat on you for a while for fun. What do you say?" Doug's grin was wicked and filled with malice.

"I'd say that's a lousy plan. How about a game of chess?"

That was the last thing Daniel managed to say before Doug planted a fist in the smaller boy's stomach, knocking the wind out of him. As Daniel curled over reflexively, the bigger boy leaned in next to his ear and whispered, "And that's what you get for being such a know-it-all freak. You had to go and embarrass me in Social Studies this morning, didn't you? Had to show me up in front of the whole class."

"Leave him alone!" Sam cried, dashing into the fray and barreling into the older child, knocking him away from Daniel. She rolled to her feet and moved between Doug and the still-recovering Daniel. "I mean it! Leave him alone!"

"No way, Blondie!" Doug snarled back, furious. "That little piece of crap comes in here, skipping two grades on the way, and makes all the teachers think he's perfect. He sits there all quiet, never sayin' anything unless it's to prove somebody wrong or kiss up. I'm sick of it! He should just go back to school with all the other babies and get it over with!"

Sam gritted her teeth, her eyes twin blue lasers that bore into her opponent as she glared at him. "Daniel doesn't say anything unless he's called on. It's not his fault he knows the answers and the teachers know he does. Maybe if you did your homework and paid attention in class you'd know the answers too."

Doug took a threatening step forward, stopping when it didn't have the intended effect on the angry young blonde between him and his target. Sam never flinched. "He's a baby, and he belongs with the rest of the babies."

"I'm smart enough to be here, Doug. You're going to have to live with that." Sam sensed more than saw Daniel stand and place himself to her right just behind her shoulder. "Sam's right. You should do your homework so you'll know the answers when you're called on in class. Then the teachers can't call on me to correct you, and you won't be embarrassed." The quiet tone was the same as before, firm and unyielding, although now that he was so close to her ear Sam could hear a quiver of fear behind it all.

Fortunately Doug couldn't. "It figures," he sneered, looking down on the both of them. All three antagonists could sense the crowd beginning to back away as they lost interest now that a fight no longer seemed as inevitable. "The two super freaks would stick together. You both belong back with the babies." Finally giving in to his lack of support, Doug gave the two younger students one last threatening scowl and stormed off.

Sam finally turned to face her friend once the bully had completely disappeared from sight. "Daniel? Are you okay? That punch looked pretty vicious."

Daniel sighed and wrapped his arms around his middle, flinching slightly at the contact as his eyes gently closed. "I was hoping you'd never have to see stuff like that."

"You mean this happens on a regular basis?" Sam asked, shocked.

"Not exactly regularly," Daniel refuted, opening his eyes to meet her gaze. "But every now and again Doug or one of his friends gets a little rough."

"How long have they been bullying you?"

"Like this? Since the beginning of the school year. It was pretty much just taunts and insults last semester."

Sam couldn't believe what she was hearing. Daniel sounded so... resigned to it all. She drew herself to her full height, her expression becoming determined. "Grab your stuff, Daniel. I only live a few blocks from here. Let's go to my house and I can make sure you're all right."

Daniel shook his head. "That's okay, Sam. I'll be fine. I'll just go home and take it easy. By Monday it'll be like nothing happened."

"Darn it, Daniel, something did happen. I can live with you not telling a teacher or anything - they might think you did something to provoke it and you'd get in trouble..."

"Or Doug would get in trouble and be even worse next time," Daniel interjected matter-of-factly.

"But Doug might have hurt you," Sam continued like she hadn't been interrupted. "I just want to be sure you're okay, Daniel. I'm worried about you."

The blonde girl didn't understand why Daniel's eyes widened so much at her simple declaration or why he seemed so surprised by the way she felt. She figured he had already known. "Okay, Sam," he whispered, stunned. "If you're sure."

"Of course I'm sure. I wouldn't have asked you if I wasn't. Besides," here the girl smiled widely, "I was going to ask if you wanted to come over tonight or some other time this weekend so we could study together for the finals next week."

Confusion joined the jumble of emotions on the boy's face, making Sam fight to not laugh. "Really?" Daniel asked. "You were really going to ask me over?"

Sam shook her head as her smile turned gentle. "Really, Daniel. In fact, I've been thinking about it for the last two weeks."

A smile finally blossomed on Daniel's features, warming Sam's heart. "Thank you, Sam. In that case I'd be more than happy to go over to your house to study. I just have to call home to say where I'll be."

"Then let's go." Daniel grabbed one last book and his coat from his locker, and the two friends headed out.

* * * * * * * *

"Wow, this is a nice place," Daniel murmured as he followed Sam into her house. The entryway they had walked into was relatively uncluttered, only an oval mirror on the left-hand wall next to a polished coat rack for decoration. The linoleum tile was a pale grey, and a set of dark wood stairs covered with green shag carpeting led up to the second floor along the right-hand wall.

Sam took off her jacket and hung it on the coat rack, gesturing for Daniel to do the same. "It's okay I guess," she replied with a shrug, kicking off her sneakers. "The house we had in Florida was bigger."

Daniel followed Sam's lead with his outer clothing, then trailed behind her into the living room just down the hall and to the left. He sat down on the large, floral-print couch when invited and opened his backpack. "I didn't know you moved here from Florida," he commented as he started to pull out his books.

She shrugged again, Daniel sensing the emotional walls she was beginning to retreat behind. "That's where my dad was stationed last. Now stop bending and moving so much. I want to check your stomach where Doug hit you."

The boy blinked and began to blush ever so slightly as he leaned back against the cushion behind him. "You don't have to do this," he said as Sam came over and lifted his sweater to look at the formerly pale skin beneath.

"It's a little red," she commented, ignoring the self-effacing admonishment. "Are you breathing all right?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. No, really, I'm not short of breath at all," he reiterated quickly when his first reassurance was met with a firm glare. "I'm a little sore, and bending over makes it flare up a little, but it's getting better all the time. I promise."

Sam released the thin, patterned wool and crossed her arms over her chest as she stood up. "Really?"

Daniel nodded. "Really. I don't want you to worry, Sam." He still couldn't believe she would. She had floored him with that announcement.

"Well..." she drew out, giving him a critical once-over. "Okay. But if you start to feel worse or get too sore, you let me know."

"I will."

Loud, thumping footsteps came rushing down the stairs at that point. A moment later, an older boy with shaggy hair a shade darker than Sam's wandered into the room. "Where's my wallet?" he asked without any preamble.

"How the heck should I know? I just got home," Sam responded a touch indignantly.

The older boy finally looked at her and Daniel. "Who's that?" he asked bluntly, a slight frown marring his lean features.

Sam sighed and rolled her eyes. "Mark, this is my friend Daniel Jackson. Daniel, this is my brother Mark. He's sixteen and a complete pain."

"Thus spoke the pot to the kettle. Are you sure you haven't seen my wallet? And since when did you have friends here? I've never heard you talk about him."

"He's sitting right here you know," Sam snapped as Daniel sank further into the sofa cushions. "And you'd have to actually be around for me to talk to you. By the way, no, I don't know where your wallet is. Have you tried your room?"

"Sorry, Daniel. Pleasure to meet you," Mark threw out distractedly, digging around beneath the cushion of the overstuffed chair that matched the couch. "Would I be asking you if the thing had been in my room?"

"How about the laundry room? Maybe you left it in your pants pocket. Dad grabbed the hamper and started a load before he left this morning."

Anger twisted the teenager's features. "He damn well better not have touched my wallet. The son of a bitch had no right!"

Sam's expression was a jumble of emotions as she watched her brother storm from the room. A distant muffled slam of a door a few moments later presumably spoke of Mark's entry into the laundry room. "Sorry about that," she muttered, her eyes glued to the floor. "Mark and my dad... don't get along."

Daniel bit his lower lip as he considered what to say. He didn't want to be nosy, but at the same time he didn't want to see his friend hurting. "What about you?" he asked quietly after a long pause.

"I don't want to talk about it, okay, Daniel? Why don't we just start studying?"

Daniel took a long look at the girl standing in front of him and decided to back off. She'd tell him when she was ready. "Sure, Sam. But I think you'd be more comfortable if you sat down." He patted the cushion beside him.

Sam nodded. "I'll grab my stuff. Did you want anything to drink? We've got juice and soda, and there's always water." She struggled to pull herself back together.

"Only if you're getting something for yourself."

"Yeah, I think I could use something. What would you like?"

"Orange juice if you have it."

"One glass of orange juice, coming right up," Sam declared and walked quickly out of the room.

Two hours later, the coffee table was strewn with papers and textbooks, and both eighth-graders had put earlier events out of their minds. They were discussing one of the books they'd read for their reading class when someone came in the front door. "Mark, Sammy, are you home? I'm going to make supper!" a voice called from the entryway.

Daniel broke off mid-sentence and gave Sam a querying look. "My dad," she explained, her emotional shields suddenly back in place. "He does that every night when he gets home."

A man with thinning brown hair cut in a severe military style came into the room then unbuttoning the jacket of his uniform. "There you are, Sammy." He looked a little startled at Daniel's presence. "Who's your friend?"

"My name is Daniel Jackson," Daniel said, feeling Sam stiffen beside him. "Sam invited me over to study for the finals they're giving us in school next week. But if you're about to have dinner, I should be going."

"No, no, you don't have to go," Sam's father quickly insisted, much to his daughter's surprise. "You're welcome to have dinner with us. Why don't you go ahead and call your parents and let them know where you'll be? When you and Sammy are finished studying, I'll give you a ride home."

Daniel blinked at the generous offer. "I don't want to intrude..." he began to protest.

The man cut him off with a wave of his hand. "You're not intruding; I'm inviting you. I hope pork chops are okay." The boy mutely nodded, his eyes wide with shock, barely noting Sam beside him in the same condition. "Is your brother upstairs, Sam?"

Sam had to clear her throat before she answered. "Uh, yeah. I heard him stomp back up there after he came down looking for his wallet right after we got here. I haven't heard him come back down since."

"Then again, we have been pretty focused on our studying," Daniel added softly with an apologetic tone, determined to tell the whole story. "If he was quiet, we might not have heard him." Sam shot him a sharp look, then nodded her agreement.

"I know how Sammy gets when she opens her books," her father said with a smile. "It wouldn't surprise me. I'll go check on him and change, then start supper. Should be ready in about an hour."

"Thank you," Daniel called out as the older man disappeared.

Sam stared at the spot where her dad had been standing. "That was weird," she muttered. "I wouldn't have expected him to invite you to supper."

Daniel gave her a wide-eyed look in return. "I can go if I'm just going to cause trouble," he insisted, his words almost stumbling over each other in their haste to exit his mouth.

The blonde girl put a speedy hand on his shoulder. "You're not," she said firmly. "If my dad said you can stay, you can stay. I just wasn't expecting him to say you can stay, that's all. I want you to stay."

Another one of Daniel's shy smiles blossomed out. "Then I guess I'll... stay."

"Do you need to call home?"

"No. No one was home when I called before, so I left a message saying I'd be here. It won't be a problem."

Sam gasped. "You mean you would have gone home and no one would have been there? What would you have done for supper?"

Daniel shrugged. "I would have found something. Don't worry about it, Sam. I'm used to it."

Something in his tone and body language told Sam this wasn't something Daniel was comfortable talking about. "Okay," she said softly. "But I'm glad you're eating with us tonight."

"Me too." Daniel took a drink from the third glass of orange juice Sam had insisted on getting for him. "So, Sam," he continued, deftly changing the subject, "I didn't realize your dad was in the military."

"He's a colonel in the Air Force. Colonel Jacob Carter. He's stationed at Beale Air Force Base." Her tone was a touch distant.

"The Air Force?" Daniel repeated, his eyes growing wide. "I have a friend in the Air Force. He's only a cadet in the academy, but still..."

Sam blinked. "You know a cadet?"

Daniel nodded, grinning. "Yeah. Jack and I met a long time ago. We write letters to each other all the time. He makes me laugh." His mood sobered suddenly. "He's been a really good friend."

The young lady beside him didn't understand the surge of jealousy she felt. "I'm glad, Daniel. It's good to know you have other friends."

"Well, Sam, as much as I like Jack and value his friendship, I have something with you that I don't have with him." He thought about reaching out and touching Sam's folded hands that rested in her lap, but reconsidered at the last second. "You're here, Sam," he said gently. "I can talk to you every day, and you understand what I go through every day because you go through it too. I never expected to have two such wonderful friends like you and Jack. I give thanks for the both of you every chance I get."

Sam couldn't believe how easily Daniel had picked up on her emotions. But his words eased the discomfort she had felt, and made her feel even closer to him. She hadn't felt like this in a long time. "I give thanks for you, too, Daniel. You're the best friend I've ever had." Her eyes widened when she saw that Daniel's blue eyes had filled with tears. "Daniel, what's wrong?"

"Nothing," he whispered, getting himself back under control. "I just didn't expect you to feel that way."

"Well, you're a special guy. How could I not?" She gave him a bright smile. "Why don't we get back to studying? Dad never takes as long as he says he will with supper." Daniel gave her a watery smile and nodded, and the two of them did just that.

* * * * * * * *

Jacob Carter walked out of his study the next afternoon arching his back to stretch the muscles after sitting for over two hours doing paperwork. He'd taken to bringing some of the less sensitive of his work home to work on it there so he could be around for his children. Thinking of them, he could faintly hear the sound of music coming from upstairs, most likely from Mark's room as he waited for a phone call from his friends to go out and do something that night. That was becoming a weekly ritual in the Carter household.

What wasn't common was the other sound the older man heard echoing through the hall - Sammy's laughter. He couldn't remember when he'd last heard that sound; it had been at least six months ago, before... before they had moved, to be certain. It made him happy to hear the joyful noise, and he had a feeling it had something to do with the young man Sam had been studying with the night before. It had surprised Jacob to find his daughter had brought a friend home, although she had always been welcome to do so. He didn't think she realized that, considering the grumbling he used to do every time he'd come home and find extra children in and around his house. But that was... before. Now he realized that both of his children needed their friends more than ever, and he would do what he could to encourage those relationships. Well, the ones that wouldn't hurt them at any rate. Some of the kids Mark hung around with...

Jacob shuddered at the thought of the delinquents he had in mind. At least Sam had picked a nice, quiet boy to hang around with, one who liked the idea of studying and learning. It had taken her long enough to bring him home, but she had. And it was quite apparent from the conversations he had overheard that this Daniel Jackson was just as intelligent as his daughter. Yes, this was a good friend for Sammy to have. He was a good boy, and he made her smile again. Jacob couldn't have asked for anything more. Now if only he could do that for the young girl who looked so much like her mother...

The colonel walked down the hall and leaned in the doorway to the living room, gazing on the scene he found there. Sam and Daniel sat on either side of the coffee table surrounded by every deck of cards in the house. On the table itself was the beginning of a giant card pyramid. As Jacob looked on the boy leaned forward with intense concentration shaping his features, the two cards he held placed with gentle precision. Sam watched carefully, her blue-grey eyes wide and a hand clapped over her mouth. It was priceless.

The older man was about to make a comment when the phone rang. Fortunately for the children's creative effort, Daniel had backed away and Sam hadn't finished grabbing the next two cards to be placed. "You kids are doing a great job," Jacob said before heading for the telephone in the hallway, resting on the built-in shelf in the angled wall under the stairs.

In the living room, Daniel and Sam had jumped more from the girl's father's words than the ring of the phone. "I didn't know your dad was there," Daniel said, a splayed hand on his chest as he flopped back against the couch behind him.

"I didn't either," Sam replied, still staring at the space where the man had been.

Daniel's head cocked to the side when Jacob's conversation switched from English to another language altogether. "Who's your dad talking to?" he asked.

The young blonde turned to look at him. "Oh, the Arabic? Dad uses that when he needs to talk about classified stuff at home. Mark and I don't know it, and neither does anyone else, so it's safe." She missed the widening of her friend's eyes as she reached for the cards she'd dropped. "It's my turn, right?"

"Uh, yeah," Daniel said distractedly, getting his expression under control. His attention was half on the conversation from the hall.

"This is starting to get tough. I've never built one this big before," she murmured.

An hour later, Daniel capped off the pyramid with a final pair. From the hall, it sounded like Jacob's discussion was beginning to wind down. "Um, Sam, do you have a camera maybe? If you do we should take a picture. No one will believe us otherwise." He gave her a small smile.

She returned it with a wide one of her own. "Oh, definitely. I think Dad has one up in his room, or maybe his study. I'll check." The girl carefully rose to her feet and left the room.

Daniel watched her go before following suit and pausing in the doorway just in time to see his friend's father hang up the phone. "Excuse me, Colonel Carter?" he said hesitantly.

Jacob turned his head and smiled at the boy. "What do you need, kid?" he asked in a friendly tone.

"I... I need to tell you something. I... I think I understood most of what you were saying on the phone."

The man's eyes widened at the admission. He cleared his throat. "What makes you say that, Daniel? I was talking to my friend in Arabic, not English."

Daniel swallowed nervously. "One of my first languages was Arabic, sir," he admitted in the appropriate tongue. "Please don't be mad," he continued, reverting to English. "I promise I won't tell anyone what you were talking about, not even Sam. She doesn't even know I understood. She told me you used Arabic when it was classified, and I know that means you can't talk about it to people. So I won't." He bit his lower lip when he finished his apologetic rambling and looked up at Jacob with earnest, tear-brimmed blue eyes.

"How many languages do you speak?" the colonel asked, buying time so he could figure out what to do.

"Thirteen," was the quiet response. "I've been hoping to pick up Japanese, but so far I haven't been able to find anyone to teach me."

Jacob's eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Thirteen?" he parroted incredulously. "Why do I get the feeling you can read more than you speak?"

Daniel nodded. "Yes, sir. Another three, and five ancient languages."

A shouted exchange between the pair of siblings upstairs caught their attention and reminded them they weren't alone in the house. "Look, Daniel," Jacob said with a sigh. "I don't think there's any way I could have known you'd understand me, and you definitely couldn't have known I use Arabic to have more sensitive conversations at home. You didn't do anything wrong. You've promised me you wouldn't say anything to anyone; I'm going to hold you to that. And as long as you keep your promise, we won't mention it again."

"Are... are you sure?" Daniel asked meekly. "I don't want you to get in trouble for me overhearing you."

"If no one knows, how can I get in trouble?" the older man said with a shrug. "I'll just be sure to take my calls in the study from now on. That way you can't accidentally overhear me, and neither of us will get in trouble." Jacob smiled at the boy before him. "It'll be okay, Daniel. I think we just reached an understanding."

"I understand, Colonel Carter. Thank you for not punishing me." Big blue eyes stared at the floor at the boy's feet.

Jacob reached out and gently brought the small chin up. "There's nothing to punish you for. You didn't do anything wrong," he repeated firmly. "What happened here was an accident - on both our parts. I made an assumption I shouldn't have. That's all." Daniel swallowed again and nodded. "Now," the man continued in a tone that signified he was changing the subject, "what exactly was Sammy doing dashing upstairs the way she did?"

A smile began to twitch upward on Daniel's face. "We finished our pyramid. Sam was just looking for a camera so we could take a picture of it."

"And she's looking in my room, I bet." Jacob chuckled and shook his head. "The Polaroid is in my study." Hurried footsteps came rushing down the stairs. "You two go back into the living room and I'll go get it," he offered as a head of flowing blonde hair came into sight. "I want to see this great project of yours."

"Okay, Colonel." Daniel turned to face Sam just as she came up to him with a disappointed look on her face and Jacob disappeared into the study.

"I'm sorry, Daniel," Sam said with a pout. "I couldn't find the camera. I saw Dad go into the study, so I won't be able to look there."

"That's okay. Your dad's gone to get it. We're supposed to wait for him in the living room."

Sam blinked. "Okay..."

A few minutes later Jacob joined them in the other room. "Okay, now the two of you stand to either side of the coffee table, and I'll take your picture." They carefully moved to do so, and the elder Carter snapped off a shot. "Don't move. Let me get one for each of you," Jacob cautioned as he pulled out the developing film and set it aside. He took the second shot. "One more time." The flash went off for a third time. He held up the last picture. "This one's for me," he said with a grin.

Sam's smile faded to be replaced by a look of confusion. "But you took one for me," she said, her tone matching her expression.

"And that's exactly who it's for," her father told her. "I'm taking this one to work to put on my desk. Here you guys go," he continued, putting down his own copy and holding out the other two. Sam and Daniel took them just as the phone rang. "I'll get that. It's probably for Mark. And then I have to get back to my paperwork. If it looks like I'm going to miss supper, give a knock, okay, Sammy? Oh, and you're welcome to stay, Daniel." Sam just nodded as her dad walked away, snatching his picture as he went.

"I didn't know they made cameras like this," Daniel murmured with wonder as he gazed at his picture once the two children were alone.

"You've never seen a Polaroid before?" Sam asked, the comment pulling her back from her thoughts.

Daniel shook his head. "Never. But it's pretty neat."

The low sound of a terse exchange near the telephone made itself heard. Sam flinched and sighed. "They always fight like that."

"Your dad and your brother? Why?" Daniel asked.

Sam waited for Jacob to stride by and the sound of the study door slamming that followed soon after. "Because it's my dad's fault my mom died six months ago." The murmured response was dark and filled with anger, and the girl crossed her arms over her chest.

Daniel blinked in surprise before a look of compassion transformed his features. "I'm sorry, Sam. What happened?"

"She was in a car accident. My dad was late picking her up so she took a taxi, and they got into an accident. She was killed instantly." The low voice broke on the last word. She took a deep breath. "If he'd just been there when he said he would, it wouldn't have happened."

"You don't know that, Sam." Daniel bit his lower lip when he got no response. "Why was he late?"

"Some meeting or something that he claims he couldn't get out of. Some general showed up and wanted some kind of review or something. But he should have been there for her."

"So that's why your brother is mad at your dad all the time," Daniel concluded sadly. "Why aren't you?"

The sound of the receiver being dropped carelessly back onto the cradle filled the silence left as Sam unfolded her arms and tried to gather her thoughts. She'd never been asked that before. "Sam, I'm going," Mark called out. "I'll be late."

"Not too late!" Jacob's muffled voice replied.

"I'll be very late!" Mark corrected himself, fury dripping from his words. Not long after, the front door slammed, sending vibrations through the house. The carefully-built playing card structure collapsed in on itself, causing Sam and Daniel to stare at the now flat surface between them. The young girl blinked then glanced at the picture she still held in her hand. She looked up again just as Daniel brought his head up from the table, and their eyes met.

"Is that how you feel, too?" Daniel asked quietly.

Sam's expression became stricken. "But he should have been there! He shouldn't have been late!"

The boy standing across the table from her shrugged. "Maybe, maybe not, but he was late. And I bet it hurts him just as much as it hurts you and your brother. Just like every time you glare at him, and every time Mark yells at him, it hurts him."

"He deserves it!"

"Really? Didn't your dad love your mom?"

The question startled Sam. "Well, yeah, he did. They loved each other a lot," she said after a brief pause.

Daniel nodded. "I bet he blames himself for being late."

Sam hesitated before responding. "Yeah, he said something like that before the funeral." She closed her eyes. "But it is his fault!"

"Why does it have to be anybody's fault? Your mom's gone. It was an accident. I know it hurts..."

"What would you know about it?" Sam snapped defensively. "How would you know what it feels like to lose your mother?"

There was a sudden, cold silence that descended on the room as Daniel's expression lost every trace of emotion. Sam saw the change and realized she'd said something wrong, but was much too hurt and confused to do anything about it. Yet she couldn't turn away from the piercing blue gaze that bore into her. "In September of 1973, Doctors Melbourne and Claire Jackson were supervising the construction of their exhibit at the New York Museum of Art. While the coverstone was being lowered onto the thick, stone walls that made up the reconstructed tomb they had brought over from Egypt, a weak link in the chain attaching it to the pulley broke, toppling it into the rest of the stone slabs. Everything collapsed onto them, killing them instantly. They left behind an eight-year-old son who has spent the last three years in foster care, going from home to home, never staying anywhere very long. Losing people you love hurts more than anything, and when you think there might be something, anything you could have done to change what happened, it hurts even more. I know you hurt, Sam. But your dad hurts even more. Think about that the next time you feel like glaring at him over a tiny slight, or Mark yells at him for calling him to dinner. And no matter what else you do, remember that he's still here to be mad at. I don't have that luxury." And with that, Daniel spun around and grabbed his jacket and backpack and headed for the door, shoving the picture he still held in his hand into his pocket as he went.

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