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Won't Feel So Alone

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As should be thoroughly unsurprising (and yet, isn't) it turns out that Charlie O'Neill really is a lot like Skaara. He sits like him, too, which is one of the reasons Daniel finds himself staring at the young man instead of concentrating on his laptop computer. The other reason is that Charlie O'Neill looks a lot like Jack. A lot like Jack.

"Yo, can I bum a smoke?" Charlie grins at him, friendly and open, the same way Skaara used to ask Daniel for help.

He doesn't even like the cigarettes, Daniel mostly keeps them in his pocket so he has something to fumble for when people's stares get too uncomfortable. He hands one over wordlessly, mentally counting the years and concluding that Charlie is probably around twenty years old right now.

"So, why are you staring at me?" Charlie asks, sitting down. The outdoor café isn't crowded or anything, but Daniel feels suddenly claustrophobic. "I mean, don't get me wrong - lots of people stare at me, but you're looking at me like I'm a ghost or something, and don't take this the wrong way but if you're about to burst into tears or some shit, I'm out of here."

Daniel can't say the truth, which is on the tip of his tongue: you look a lot like your father and why aren't you dead, so he blurts out the next-best thing, "You remind me of my nephew,"

Charlie grins at him. "Yeah?" he says, encouragingly. "Tell me about him."

-

Daniel finds himself frequenting the cafe in the hopes that Charlie will come around to hang out with him. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they drink coffee. Charlie smokes and Daniel watches him, and he finds himself telling the younger man all about Abydos, about living with Sha're, about Skaara's eagerness to learn English. He finds himself telling the truth, stories that he's almost forgotten that bring a smile to his face, although he is careful to call Abydos "Egypt" and to keep geographical references vague.

Charlie knows a surprising lot about mythology, for all that he's a baseball-playing sports junkie, currently studying engineering at the local university. He interrupts Daniel every six seconds, asking questions about Thor that Daniel has to dodge.

"Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me any of the interesting parts?" Charlie demands.

"Well if you want to know that badly, why not find out for yourself?" Daniel retorts, and the two of them share a smile while Charlie rolls his eyes. He's a lot like Jack, too - the Jack Daniel used to know.

-

"Uh, hello," Daniel says, because he doesn't exactly have much of a choice.

Colonel Jack O'Neill, who is not Daniel's Jack, but a hostile stranger who is wearing his face, glares at him. "What the hell?" He says. "What are you doing here--"

"Dad," Charlie interrupts them, looking a little bit embarassed. "He's my friend."

"He's a--"

"Look, I'm-- I'm really sorry," Daniel says. "I'll just-- go." He fumbles for his cane and stands up, grabbing at his jacket and trying to put on his backpack all at the same time.

"No," Charlie says. "I invited you to dinner, you're coming to dinner. Dad, this is Daniel, he's my friend, I told you about him. Daniel, this is Colonel Jack O'Neill, he's my father and he's really nice when you get to know him."

It wouldn't be possible to explain to Charlie that they've already met, that Daniel has tried to talk to Jack, and Jack thinks Daniel's crazy. They've both signed confidentiality agreements to the tune of 'If I ever mention this the American Government ought to come and kill me in the night' and Daniel feels helpless. "It's nice to meet you, Colonel," Daniel says stiffly.

"Yeah," is O'Neill's response, clearly through gritted teeth.  

Charlie looks back and forth between them, "Okay, is there like --"

"Your father hates my guts," Daniel says. "It's a long, complicated, and classified-top-secret story, but trust me when I say that dinner is probably not going to go well. I'll be out of your way. Happy birthday, Charlie, okay?" Daniel smiles and, finally getting everything together, starts to make his way towards the exit.

"Wait!" Charlie stops him with a touch to his elbow, looking wide-eyed and concerned, confusion written clearly on his face. "Are you - you're still going to come out, later, right?" 

Daniel rolls his eyes. "Yeah, right, beers at Finnegan's, I haven't forgotten." 

Charlie goes back to his father. Daniel can feel O'Neill's glare burning the back of his neck.

-

As far as 21st birthdays go, Charlie's is pretty low-key. He gets plastered at Finnegan's, pukes on Daniel's shoes, and ends up half-curled into a ball, his head on Daniel's shoulder while Daniel struggles with his cell phone and tries to hail a cab.

"I don't feel good," Charlie moans, fingers clutching weakly at Daniel's jacket.

"And that is why shots of tequila are better left to professionals," Daniel replies. After drinking moonshine on Abydos for a year, and then another eleven years of off-world missions and alien ceremonies, he's pretty much immune to the effects of alcohol so long as he doesn't try for a world record. Charlie, on the other hand, is younger and greener and definitely not used to alien rotgut.

Daniel gives up on trying to hold himself upright as he also supports Charlie's weight. His cane is missing, probably dropped on the floor somewhere -- either he's going to have to either find it before he leaves, or he's going to have to use the crutches for a while. "Charlie, stop moving," He says.

"Can you call my dad?" Charlie asks, sounding absolutely miserable. "He said I should call him so he can make sure I'm not dead," and then he leans forward to puke onto the sidewalk.

"Yeah..." Daniel says. "That's definitely what this night needed."

-

Jack O'Neill shows up in his car, scowling like it's all Daniel's fault that his son is piss-drunk on his twenty-first birthday. Not in the mood to fight, Daniel pours the kid into the back seat and bids both of them good night.

"Where do you live? I'll drive you home," O'Neill offers grudgingly.

"I'm fine," Daniel says. "But thank you."

O'Neill glares the same as Jack used to, which leaves Daniel feeling almost nostalgic. "Just get your cane," he says. "I'll drive you."

-

Instead of a quick trip home, Daniel has to struggle with Jack to get Charlie out of the car, and then they team up to get him out of his shoes and jacket. It's an uphill battle, but finally they toss Charlie onto his bed, and Jack settles himself down on the couch and looks pensive. Daniel sits beside him kind of tentatively, hoping that this isn't going to lead into a conversation about how he's a horrible person, or how Jack hates him, or how he should have just stayed in his own universe or died.

"Did you meet him?" O'Neill asks.

"What?"

The expressive hand gesture means nothing, and after a moment of Daniel staring blankly, O'Neill elaborates. "Where you come from - did you meet Charlie, there?"

Swallowing, Daniel doesn't know how to respond. "No," he finally says. "He -- I didn't meet you until after."

"Oh," Jack looks down at his hands, and they sit in uncomfortable silence for a few moments.

"He looks a lot like you," Daniel says to break the silence. "I mean, almost exactly like you did at that age."

"I thought you didn't meet me --"

"It wasn't really you, more like a clone of you, about sixteen years old." Daniel explains. "Charlie -- he looks like he did."

"Right," O'Neill takes a moment to ponder this. "And you and I -- we're friends, where you come from?"

"Yes," Daniel says tightly. "We were."

"We were?"

There isn't a more tactful way to put it.

"You died," Daniel says. "Right -- before." He takes a deep breath. "I watched you  -- him, I watched him die. My Jack, the one I was friends with for twelve years. You aren't him,"

"Well," O'Neil says, uncomfortably. "We were almost the same person--"

"Almost, yeah, sure." Daniel interrupts. "But in this universe, you have Charlie and Sarah. Here, you never went with me to Abydos, you never met my wife or my nephew, you never harassed me about getting back home, and you sure as fuck never saved my life. You didn't-- you never came back to check on me, you didn't help me save a planet, or kill a god. I have all these memories of you - of the two of us - and none of it happened to you." 

He turns to O'Neill, hating himself for not being able to conceal the emotion in his voice. "I was with you when you couldn't handle Charlie's loss, when your marriage fell apart. I've saved your life and broken out of prison with you, I've killed people who wanted to hurt you, I've died to save you. I can remember all of it, I can remember trying to keep you sane while you were being tortured, I remember you saving my life and believing me when I thought I was losing my mind. You've pulled me back from the edge - literally - and were there for me when my wife died, and the most important part of everything I've just said is that it wasn't you."

O'Neill doesn't look away. He looks pale, pale and older than Daniel can ever remember Jack being. "No," he says. "It wasn't."

"Well," Daniel says. "I hope you're happy, Jack."

Shrugging, O'Neill turns away. "Was the other version of me happy?" 

"No," Daniel replies. "He didn't have Charlie."

-

When Charlie wakes up in the morning, he stares at his dad and Daniel, who are making breakfast in the kitchen. It's normal to Daniel, who has cooked with Jack countless times before. He hands fruit, knives, bowls, and eggs to the Colonel without needing to be asked, and ignores the surprised, confused expression on O'Neill's face every single time he does so.

"How's the hangover?" Daniel asks.

Flinching, Charlie holds on to the counter and closes his eyes. "Just give me aspirin and some water," He groans.

"Eat your breakfast," O'Neill orders, pointing at the plate he'd already made for Charlie, set across the table from Daniel.

Obediently, Charlie settles into the chair, grabbing a fork and digging in with a barely audible "What, no Froot Loops?" 

They both stare at Daniel when he laughs, identical expressions on their faces.

-