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Left To Lose
strangers at an airport
PG, gen, AU. Sam meets a stranger.
Sam said goodbye to Mark at the airport. It was an awkward goodbye, because it had all been a forced reconciliation. Less I’m sorry for mocking every choice you made and I’m sorry for never being who you wanted me to be and more shut up, keep quiet and don’t say what you’re thinking.
Because Jacob Carter was dying, and love it or hate it, he was the one thing they had left in common after all these years. So she smiled, dry-eyed, and knelt to be at eye level with blonde, eight-year-old Katherine, her niece and small admirer.
“Auntie Sam, can you really fly planes?” she asked, and Sam nodded and smiled at her earnestness.
“Not this one, though,” she said, and made sure Mark could see her looking at the departure board.
He took the hint. “I think we’d better…”
She cut him off so he wouldn’t have to say it. “It’s not worth you waiting, Mark, Katherine will get bored.”
He nodded. “Take care of yourself, Sam. I’ll be in touch if anything… if anything changes.”
“Thanks.” She leaned down and gave her niece an unexpectedly fierce hug; the girl shrieked and laughed and even Mark smiled.
“Bye, Sam,” he said after a moment, and pretty soon he was walking away, holding Katherine’s hand firmly though she insisted on turning and waving madly, and Sam waited until they were quite out of sight before letting herself check her gate number.
It flashed up. Gate number thirty-two. Right at the end, of course, and it was a long walk through a mostly deserted terminal. Her footsteps echoed as she went, and she looked out through the large windows, hoping to see through to the runway, but the inside lights reflected back off the glass, illuminating nothing but her own reflection, pale and distorted against the blackness.
The departure area wasn’t quite so deserted, but the place was hardly bursting at the seams. She paused for a moment, wondering where to sit. Not away by herself in a corner, she didn’t think she could bear that. But equally, not by the family with the small children, not by the old woman picking fluffy butterscotch out of her bag, and definitely not by the man sitting alone and apathetically chain-smoking.
Only one possibility, then. He was about her age, vaguely scruffy, sleeping peacefully with head thrown back to reveal a silver cross hanging round his neck.
Delicately, she sat herself down next to him and allowed herself a glance at the board. Forty-five minutes before departure. She pulled an Agatha Christie novel out of her bag and started to read.
She had just reached halfway down page twenty, where Poirot and the Wagon-Lit conductor had just boarded the Orient Express, when she started to cry and couldn’t stop.
Her first reaction was a clear sense of outrage directed to the universe as a whole. Why here, why now? Alone in an airport when Mark had just gone, and there was no-one there to pick her up at DC?
Well. That was it, wasn’t it? She had to be strong for Mark, whose father was dying, for Katherine whose grandfather was, and now she was by herself and didn’t have to be strong for anyone except perhaps all the people in the gate who were going to turn round in about five seconds’ time to stare at the grown woman sobbing her heart out…
“Hey,” said a voice suddenly, and she looked up. Blurrily, she could make out the man sitting next to her, looking at her with real concern through eyes as blue as her own. “Do you need a tissue? I’ve got one somewhere…” He rummaged around, and after a second about five tissues were thrust in her hands.
For some insane reason, the unexpected kindness only made her cry harder. She dabbed at her eyes, but it didn’t help. With difficulty, she blew her nose and stared at the tissues in quiet, tearful despair.
The man with the blue eyes had turned away from her, looking for something in his bag. Inwardly, she groaned. There you go, Sam. Look how uncomfortable you’ve made him.
But after a second, he was talking to her again. “So, tissues don’t work,” he said conversationally. “And clearly, my presence alone is not balm for the soul. Which leaves us…”
His hands were in hers again. She lifted her face to stare at him in confusion. “Hershey’s Kisses?”
He smiled ruefully. “American chocolate leaves a lot to be desired, I’ll admit, but it’s the best I have.”
Clumsily, she untwisted one small wrapper and dropped the chocolate in her mouth. It tasted of salt, but after a second it melted on her tongue and she felt herself want to laugh. She expected a giggle to escape, but instead it was another sob, and she wondered exactly who and what she’d pissed off in a past life to deserve this.
“Oh,” said Blue-eyes. “Tell you what. Let’s give up on the whole cheering-you-up thing. Just cry a bit. No-one’s stopping you. Except yourself,” he added as an afterthought.
Two minutes later, the tears had stopped. She reached for the tissues again, wiped her eyes, took a deep breath and let out a long, shuddering sigh. The world began to swim back into focus enough for her to take a good look at her companion. He was watching her with gentle interest, and when he saw her looking at him, he merely smiled and handed her another chocolate.
“Thank you,” she said. “For the tissues, too. I’m so sorry.”
“That’s just fine,” he said, sitting back in his chair. “What on earth are you apologising for?”
“Well,” she hesitated, “you’re so nice, and I’ve been crying all over you. Oh, and I woke you up. I must look like such a mess.”
“Forgive me,” he said thoughtfully, “but I would guess that crying over strangers in airports is not something you do very often. In fact, I would go as far as saying it’s something you’ve never done in your life before, and who am I not to facilitate a once-in-a-lifetime experience?”
She was startled into giggling. “For what it’s worth, you’re right. I never did this before.”
“That’s good to know,” he replied. “So, dare I ask who or what the tears are for?” Off her hesitation, he held up his hands. “That’s fine, you don’t have to tell me anything. Okay, let’s see. What can we talk about? I’m not good at small talk. Um… where are you going?”
She couldn’t resist smiling at his way of talking. “Washington DC. I’m going home.”
“Oh, you are? Me too.”
“You’re from DC?” she asked curiously.
He shook his head. “Not exactly. It’s a step on the journey home, shall we say.”
“Where is home?” she asked, pleased to have something else to think about.
“Egypt,” he said unexpectedly. “I hope to be in Cairo by the end of the week. Hitch-hiking may be involved.”
“Egypt?” she repeated. “But you… you…”
He grinned. “I don’t look Egyptian? Well, I’m not. But I’m still going home. Anyway, enough about me. Are you feeling any better?”
“Yeah, I am,” she said, and meant it. After a minute, she felt like she wanted to tell him. “My father has cancer. I came out to San Diego to visit him one last time.”
“I see.” She watched as his fingers drifted to the cross around his neck. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Sam sighed. “So was I. They gave him six months to live. That was a year ago, and he got himself moved out here so he could be nearer my brother.”
He nodded. “He sounds like quite a fighter, your father.”
She smiled. “He is. He was a general in the Air Force.”
He didn’t say anything, and she was prepared to bet money he was as liberal as they came. Something about the long hair and that quick raise of the eyebrows at the mention of the military. In the end she decided to get it out of the way. “I’m in the Air Force, too. I’m a captain.”
She wondered why she was telling him this. Because you don’t have anyone to talk to, and he’s here and he was nice to you, provided her inner voice. She ignored it. “ My brother hates the way I went into the military and he didn’t. My brother and I… well, we don’t get on.”
“Until now when you have to,” he said quickly, and she blinked.
“Yeah. It’s hard.”
“Life always is,” he sighed, and she suspected a wealth of meaning below the sigh. “I reckon you’re tough, though.”
Sam snorted. “I just cried my eyes out in the arms of a complete stranger.”
“Everyone needs someone to talk to sometimes,” he said, and something about the way he said it prompted her reply.
“Like you, for instance?”
He turned sharply. “So, we’re about to make this a two-way street?”
“You’re on your own too,” she challenged.
“This is true.” He sighed. “All right. It’s not been a good year. About a week ago, I used the last of my money to buy a plane ticket and a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. If I’m going to die on the street, I want it to be in Egypt. At least it’s warm there.”
She let it register fully before bursting out, “I’m so sorry!”
“What for?” He sounded amused.
“For crying on you when you’d got enough problems of your own.”
“Yours are worse,” he said mildly. “I’ll be fine, I always am. And at least I have control of my problems.”
She nodded slowly. “But still… what about your family?”
He shrugged. “I don’t have any.”
“Oh.” She paused, not knowing what to say.
He was smiling. “It’s fine, trust me. I never stay in one place long anyway. I’ll wait tables or something. Might come back to the States someday. I’d like to travel, though. Round the Middle East, maybe; back to places I remember.”
She knew she had to ask. “Can I come?”
He laughed. “You don’t mean that.”
“No, I don’t.” She laughed, too. “But… you know. Maybe.”
“Maybe,” he said. “But today, you go on home, and do whatever it is that captains in the Air Force do, and be good to your family. When you have nothing to lose, look me up.”
“I will,” she promised. There was a brief pause and some movement of air. Above them, the departure board clicked and changed.
“Now boarding,” he said, and smiled. “Well. Time to go.” As he spoke, his hands were on the cross again, only now Sam looked closer, she could see it wasn’t a cross. It was curved at the top.
“An ankh,” he said, following her gaze. “It’s from Abydos.” When she looked confused, he clarified, “The oldest of Egyptian cities. Everything begins and ends in Abydos.”
“And you’re going back there.”
They were standing up, gathering together their possessions.
“I hope it works out,” he said. “Your family, you know.”
“Yeah.” She smiled sadly. “I hope you reach Egypt,” she added, and meant it.
“Me too.” He tossed her the bag of Hershey’s Kisses. “Here.”
She grabbed one last chocolate and caught his arm. He turned his head to look at her, and she looked back at him properly, taking in the way the lights reflected in his eyes and captured the glints in his long sandy hair. “I’m Sam,” she said clearly. “What’s your name?”
He paused, still staring dreamily at her. “Daniel. Daniel Jackson.”
“Daniel,” she repeated. “I’ll remember that.”
He nodded. “Don’t forget, when you’ve nothing left to lose…” he said, let the sentence hang, and then he was walking away.
“I’ll go out there and find you,” she called, and knew she never would.
Daniel turned. “Goodbye, Sam,” he said seriously. “See you next year in Jerusalem.”
She waited until he had quite gone, disappearing as his seat number was called. She didn’t follow.
Well, there would always be Mark. And Katherine. And Dad, if not himself then his memory, and there was her career, rising through the ranks of the military by way of theoretical physics at the Pentagon.
Her tears had dried on her cheeks. She was never going to Jerusalem.
There would always be something left to lose.
And someone to remember Daniel Jackson.
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