Crystal Clear


Disclaimer: None of the Stargate characters, etc. are mine.


Summary: Sam helps Daniel deal with the events of “Crystal Skull”.



Sam had a long night’s work ahead of her, and for this very purpose she was on her way to the commissary to pick up a near-midnight snack, when she noticed the light was on in Daniel’s office and the door was closed. This was odd; his door was rarely closed. Even during his all-nighters (which, she noted unhappily, were becoming much more frequent) the door was at least open a crack. But not this time.


Granted, the events of the past few days were revealing, to put it succinctly, and Daniel certainly was deserving of a bit of privacy. It was probably really hard for him to be invisible, when she thought about it – to be brutally honest, he wasn’t exactly a pillar of self-assurance, and having no one acknowledge you because they couldn’t see or hear you must be more than a little frustrating. Yes, Daniel needed a little privacy.


So she was just walking past his shut door when she heard a muffled sob come from behind it. Now that was something to worry about. Daniel was not given to emotional outbursts; in fact, she couldn’t even remember seeing him cry before. Knowing this, she couldn’t just leave him alone.


Silently, she turned the doorknob, not knocking at the risk of him pretending he was “fine”. She cracked the door open slightly and peered into the room, trying not to look nosy. Though it was hard not to, considering she was acting like a peeping tom in his office.


Sam was stunned by what she saw: Daniel, with his legs pulled up to his chest and his arms wrapped around them, was sitting curled up on the cot in the corner. His shoulders shook as he obviously tried to prevent another sob from escaping his mouth, even though his face was buried in his knees.


Opening the door wide, Sam strode forward into the room, plopped herself onto the bed beside him, and before he could protest, wrapped her arms around him. “Daniel,” she said softly, reassuringly, as she pulled him closer to her. Contrary to what she thought his reaction would be, he just leaned on her and cried all the harder. For the next few minutes they sat like that, with Sam trying her hardest to comfort him. It was just stress, she reasoned, as she rubbed his back in circles. It’s been hard lately, everything’s probably just getting to him.


She began to replay the events of the past few days in her mind: Seeing him disappear right in front of her, then waking up in the infirmary so sick she couldn’t even think straight; trying her hardest to figure out just what that damn crystal skull was, even though she was constantly nauseous; arguing with Rothman, and losing her temper at just about every person she came into contact with; then meeting with Nicolas Ballard, trying not to scream at his ridiculous ideas about giant aliens in a huge cavern (which eventually turned out to be right after all); learning that Daniel was still around, still with them, even though they couldn’t see him, only Nick could. The frustration, the anger, the disappointment, all aimed at herself. She had been unable to solve the mystery of the skull. And what if Nick hadn’t been able to see Daniel? Would he have been stuck like that, trapped in some sort of weird dimension indefinitely? Would he grow old and die, or just watch as he stayed the same and everyone around him withered with age?


Another thought occurred to her, as he leaned against her, still sobbing his heart out. What had he seen, while invisible to all of them? What had he heard? Was he watching them work, encouraging them and hoping that his presence would be enough to inspire them? Oh God, she thought, as she remembered. That chill I had in Rothman’s office – Janet said it was probably the effects of the radiation. Was it him? Could my subconscious still recognize his spirit, or aura, or whatever you would call it? Was it him? She had felt as though someone had been watching her sometimes, and Teal’c had said the same thing. It was almost as though something had been haunting her steps – haunting. Did he think he was dead, that he was a ghost?


That would certainly be… maybe that was why he was acting this way. She shifted uncomfortably, thinking about her new understanding, and Daniel immediately straightened up, and pulled out of her embrace. Wiping furiously at the hot tears still on his face, he mumbled an apology. Her heart bled, realizing that he must think she was turning him away.


“No, no, it’s okay,” she said reassuringly, pulling him back closer to her again. She leaned his head against her shoulder, and her back up against the wall to support both of their weight. He wasn’t crying anymore, at least not audibly, but the wet spot on her shirt was growing steadily. Looking down at him, she could see that his eyes were closed, not in sleep, but almost in an expression of self-disgust, like he hated his thoughts and wanted to shut them out of his mind. She felt terribly for him, wanted to smooth away the wrinkles in his brow, and dry his tears. He deserved better.


Nick. It came to her so suddenly and so simply. Of course – how could she forget? ‘The old man with the funny accent’, that was how the guard at the hospital had described him. ‘No visitors, at least not for a while’. What had Daniel said during the briefing? The not-so-great grandfather. Something terrible must have happened between them. Was it because of Nick’s supposedly crazy ideas? He had said that Daniel hadn’t believed him, so maybe Daniel was sick of listening about the ‘giant aliens’ and stopped showing up.


Now that she thought about it, Daniel never, ever talked about his childhood. Not with anyone, not even with Colonel O’Neill, judging by his surprised at the briefing. Even after that whole incident with the Gamekeeper, when she had tried to get him to talk about it, he hadn’t said anything. ‘I can’t, Sam, not now,’ he had said. She had left it. Maybe she shouldn’t have.


So, what could have it been? When his parents died, he would have gone to live with his grandfather, or some other relative. So was Nick not the best of surrogate parents? She could only guess.


Boldness welled up inside of her. It wasn’t fair for Daniel to have to keep it all in; he must have had all this family trauma bottled up inside of him for years, and kept it hidden from them all. This time, she was going to make him talk. He wouldn’t be able to wheedle his way out of it.


With this in mind, she opened her mouth to speak, but grew timid once more. For heaven’s sake, Sam, she berated herself. This is for him – don’t you dare chicken out now!


Taking a deep breath, she decided to start slowly. “This is about Nick, isn’t it?” she asked softly. Again, he tried to sit up, but she pulled him back down again. “I’m not going to let you get away this time, Daniel. You can’t just keep this inside of you – I want you to tell me about Nick. About everything. Please.” Using her hand, she gently tilted his face so that he was looking up at her, and his eyes opened. “You need to talk. I want to listen. I swear I won’t tell anyone, it won’t go any further.”


Daniel looked at her, his blue eyes bright from the tears still welled in them. His face was red and puffy from crying for so long, and his left cheek bore the imprint of her textured shirt after leaning on it for so long. “Promise?” he whispered, his voice hoarse.


She nodded her head, and his eyes lingered on her for a moment. Then he pulled himself out of her embrace, and walked to the other side of the room. She had half a mind to tell him to sit down again, but then realized he was trying to get a book off of the top shelf of one of his bookcases. He returned to the cot, and sat down next to her, while giving her the photo album silently. Looking at him for a moment, she turned her attention to the book, assuming he wanted her to open it. She did so, and looked at the first page. It had only one picture, pasted in the middle, that of a young boy and a couple that Sam recognized as his parents, standing in front of some sort of tomb in what appeared to be Egypt.


She glanced up at him, uncertain. “Keep going,” he said softly. On the back of that page was a picture of a different boy and a couple, presumably his parents. “That’s my father’s parents. His mother died when he was 13, and his father died the year after my parents got married.” Daniel spoke very quietly, and she had to almost strain to hear him properly. But at least he’s talking, she thought to herself. It’s better than nothing.


On the next page were two pictures, one of a girl (probably his mother), about 10 or so, playing on a beach with her parents. It was pretty blurry, and she couldn’t make out the faces. Then there was a photograph of Nick Ballard, Daniel’s mother (Sam recognized her), and Daniel as a baby. “Nick was my mother’s father. My maternal grandmother died when my mother was 5. I don’t know a lot about my parents’ family, but from what I remember Mom talking about, I don’t think he was around that much. She was very close to an elderly lady called Bonnie, and I think that this is Bonnie and her husband in the other picture,” he said, pointing to the beachside one. “And I think that Bonnie was probably the woman who raised her.”


“What about your grandfather?” Sam asked, trying to encourage him a bit.


“He was gone a lot, I’m pretty sure…on digs and excavations and such down in South America, mostly. Mom talked more about Bonnie than Nick, and kept in close touch with her until she died.” Sam nodded in understanding, trying to picture the Ballard and Jackson families, and wondering what all of this had to do with Nick. But she figured that just having him talk about it was good, and she gladly listened.


Daniel continued his narrative. “The first time I met Nick, at least that I can remember, I must have been about 6. We were coming back from Egypt for the first time in a while, and he was waiting for us when we went to his house. He had a large house near New York City. It was one of those old Victorians. You know – huge waterfront property, servants, expensive rugs, antiques, the lot. He had tons of artifacts from Mayan and other South American cultures. That was his specialty. Anyway, the house was huge, enormous. It was a full-fledged mansion, with at least 30 rooms, and stuffed to the brim with all sorts of knick-knacks.”


His voice was becoming more steady and strong as he spoke. Sam suspected that he hadn’t ever told anyone this before, or at least not in a very long time, and she felt honored to have been taken into his confidence. “When I first met him, I called him Grandpa. But he said it made him feel too old, and so he told me to call him Nick. I never called him Grandpa, not until…” Daniel stopped suddenly, choking back emotions. Then he changed subjects, even as he closed his eyes in an effort to remember everything.


“He didn’t like Dad. I guess he didn’t think he was good enough for Mom or something, but he didn’t like him, and treated him really badly. He was always insulting him, trying to get him angry. But Dad never got angry, and neither did Mom. They just ignored him, and told me to as well. But one day, Nick said something really nasty. I don’t even remember what it was, but Mom got so mad at him. We packed our stuff and left, and we were back in Egypt in a couple weeks. I was glad, since Nick never really liked having Dad or me around. It was like he only wanted to see Mom.”


Sam rested the photo album on her lap, and then wrapped one of her arms around his shoulder, hoping that it would help to comfort him. “I’m sure he didn’t mean it, Daniel.”


He gave a short laugh but said nothing. It was obvious that he disagreed with that, though. “Anyway, the next time I saw him was after – after my parents had died.” He paused again, wiping at another tear. She tightened her arm across his shoulder in response, and waited until he was ready to go on. “He came into the city to pick up the… um, the bodies and take care of other stuff like that. I was at the police station with Dr. Christopher, who was working with Mom and Dad when it happened. The Social Services person was there too, with paperwork and forms to fill out. They all – they all assumed Nick was going to take me in. He was my only relative. I didn’t have aunts or uncles, and everyone else was dead, so he was all that I had.”


“When he got there, he walked right past me like I didn’t even exist. The Social Services lady went up to him, and said there were some things he had to sign before he could take me.” Daniel clenched his fists. “And he just looked at her like – like she was from another planet. Like he had no clue what she was talking about. Like he had forgotten I even existed. And he turned and saw me, and do you know what he said?” She didn’t answer. “He said, ‘Get him out of here.’ Nothing but that. Just – ‘Get him out of here.’ So I didn’t even see him again until the day of the funeral, because Dr. Christopher took me in for a couple of days.”


Tears were running down his cheeks again, slowly, and Sam hugged him again. “I’m so sorry, Daniel, I – I had no idea,” she said, in shock. How could anyone be that cruel to someone whose parents just died? She was utterly astonished at Nick’s lack of kindness or compassion. What a terrible, terrible thing to say. As if things weren’t hard enough for Daniel anyway, to act without any thought of his feelings at all, it’s unbelievable.


He started talking, faster now, as he grew more and more animated with his emotions. “There was a social worker there, at the funeral. And Dr. Christopher had taken all my stuff with us to the service, because he thought Nick was going to take me back to his home with him. So when it was over, the social worker said to Nick that he should take me in now, because otherwise I would have to go to an orphanage until they found a foster home to take me in. I was standing there, and he just looked at me with complete – revulsion, almost hatred.” He sucked in a deep breath, and paused for a moment. Sam bit her lip anxiously, waiting for him to continue. “I knew that he blamed me for what happened. He thought it was my fault that Mom and Dad – died. It wasn’t, it really wasn’t, and I wished for so many years I had been under there with them, it wasn’t my fault…”


“Daniel, it was not your fault,” Sam stated firmly, even as she felt tears of her own ready to spill over. “I know for a fact that it wasn’t your fault. I saw what happened myself, Daniel, so I know that it wasn’t. Don’t think that it was, despite what Nick may have led you to believe.”


“I should have done something, he was right,” Daniel replied softly, as tears rolled down his cheeks.


“You tried to save them when we were in the virtual world, and you couldn’t. No one could have saved them. It was an accident; tragic, yes, but there was nothing you could have done.”


Daniel turned his head to face her. “I want so much to believe you, I really do,” he said, not bothering to conceal his reddened face.


“You know I wouldn’t lie to you, Daniel. I never have, and I never will. Believe me when I say that what happened wasn’t your fault. You know in your heart that I’m right,” Sam answered earnestly, trying to get him to realize it.


He just looked at her for a moment, and then slowly nodded his head. “I guess so,” he said at last, and then he looked back at his hands. “I just – I always thought…”


“I know,” she replied, when he left the sentence unfinished. They sat in a silence for a moment, while she still continued to hold him, even more tightly than before. She thought he could use the physical contact after being unable to touch anything for so long. “So, what happened next?” she asked, gently prodding him forward.


“He said he didn’t want me. He said that he wouldn’t adopt me.”


Sam’s jaw could have hung open in shock then. “What?” she spluttered, completely taken by surprise. “He said that to you?” Daniel nodded his head, keeping his gaze fixed firmly on his hands. “God, what a –” she caught herself just in time before saying something more than a little rude. “What a rotten, horrible thing to say!” Anger overtook her for a moment. Who was he to talk to Daniel like that? Daniel, whose parents had just died. Daniel, who was just about the most unassuming, modest, kind person she had ever met. Daniel, his own grandson, for God’s sake! It was almost unbelievable to think that Nick would have the audacity to say something so completely awful. It was almost beyond comprehension. Finally cooling down, she asked, “Then what?”


“I went into foster care,” he replied simply.


“What? But…”


“He didn’t want me, so he didn’t adopt me.”


“I thought he was just saying that. I didn’t think he really wouldn’t adopt you.”


“No, he meant it,” Daniel said, with a small, sad smile. “He wrote me letters once in a while, and sent a card for my birthday sometimes, but that was about it. I didn’t see him again until I was already in college.”


Sam was not expecting that. She imagined there might have been an argument, or Nick didn’t maybe spend a lot of time with him, but she couldn’t have thought in her wildest dreams that Nick wouldn’t adopt Daniel. I mean – picturing Daniel of all people suffering through years of the foster care system, knowing all the while that someone could have adopted him but didn’t want to… it was such a depressing thought. And yet, the worst part was that it was true, and that it had happened. No wonder why he’s so shy and sensitive, she reflected. God only knows what he went through as a child. It’s a wonder he turned out as well as he did.


“Daniel, I just don’t know what to say,” she said honestly. “I could never have dreamed that… God, I’m so sorry.”


“It had nothing to do with you Sam,” he replied, gazing at her. “It was probably for the best anyway – he was so caught up in the whole ‘crystal skull’ thing by that time that he would have been gone all the time.”


“That’s not the point,” Sam fumed, furious at the old man, and wishing she could have given him a piece of her mind while he was still on this side of the galaxy. “The point is that he deserted his familial duty and privilege to go traipsing off to Belize or wherever else he went.”


He paused for a moment, thinking about what she said. “You know, he apologized when he were talking in the VIP room. But it just – it sounded so artificial. And I really didn’t want his apologies at all, not anymore. If he really cared about me…” he trailed off.


“Yes?” she prompted.


“I found out when I was in college that he had checked himself into the mental hospital. The doctors contacted me as his only relative, I guess, for his living will and next-of-kin papers. I went out there immediately, sort of surprised that he chose Oregon, of all places. But they said it was one of the best hospitals for treating mental breakdowns like his, so…” He stopped for a moment, seemingly confused about what he was going to say next. At least he’s calmed down a bit, Sam thought to herself. Even though she knew there was still a lot that he hadn’t said, at least she had been able to get him to open up about Nick.


“I visited him as often as I could. I tried really hard to believe him, about all his stories about the giant aliens. I listened, you know. I never refused to listen to him rant on and on about it, or try to share his hallucinations with me.” Sam looked at him in surprise. “Yeah, he’s only as normal as he is now because he’s been there under the care of some of the best doctors for years. He was a mess for a really long time.”


“I had no idea, Daniel,” she said quietly. “It just never dawned on me that you didn’t have a – a family. I mean, the rest of us, we all take leave sometimes to go visiting people, but I never really noticed that you never took any for that.”


He shrugged. “It’s no big deal,” he said nonchalantly, brushing it aside, but Sam felt really guilty for not having noticed sooner. “So anyway, when I was about to give my lecture about the pyramids, he got really mad at me. He said that I was a fool, that I had always been a fool, and I would always be a fool.” His brow furrowed once more. “We got so mad at each other, and both said things we shouldn’t have. As in – really terrible things.”


“Like what?” This, she felt, was partially what was causing him to feel so depressed. He must have felt so guilty for having Nick turn out right, and not having believed him. Not that they had either. It’s a lot easier to say you believe someone than to actually believe them. Especially considering the way that Nick referred to the ‘giant aliens’.


“I told him that he was a pathetic excuse for a grandfather.” Daniel looked at her, raw guilt etched in his expression. “I shouldn’t have said it, I know, but I was just so mad at him.”


Sam hugged him a little harder for a moment reassuringly, even though she agreed with Daniel’s accusation. “We all say things we don’t mean. Nick knew that, I’m sure. And if he didn’t then, then he does now.”


“Yeah, I guess so. But after what he said, I just couldn’t…” Again, his voice died away, and didn’t return, so Sam had to push him forward.


“What did he say to you?” He looked away. “Daniel?”


Without facing her, he said dully, “That I was even more insane than he was. That I was an embarrassment to him. And that – that it might have been better if I had died with my parents.” He buried his face in his hands.


Nicholas Ballard, you had better not come back to Earth anytime that I’m on it. “Oh, God,” she said, fighting her own anger in an effort to bring what comfort she could to Daniel. “But he didn’t mean it, I’m sure he didn’t. Just like you didn’t mean what you said to him.”


“But he – he still said it. And he didn’t care enough to not say it.” She couldn’t think of anything to respond, so she just hugged him, hoping that she was doing the right thing. “So he threw me out, and told me never to visit him ever again.”




“And I didn’t. So when Janet said that I was a regular visitor up until I joined the Stargate program, it’s actually more that I was a regular visitor until he told me not to come back.”


“Wait, you were there for that conversation in the control room?” Daniel nodded his head. “What else? I mean, what did you do?”


“Umm, let me think… well I basically hung around you guys. The infirmary, Teal’c’s quarters, your office when you were trying to figure it out. Oh, and Robert too. Thanks, by the way. For trying so hard to get me back. It really means a lot to me.”


She smiled. “Things just wouldn’t be the same around here without you, Daniel. They weren’t. Everyone was so worried about you. Even Siler was working really hard, trying to help us figure out what happened to you.”


“Yeah, I know,” he said, ducking his head. Had his face been a little less red, he would have been blushing. “I really appreciate all the trouble you guys went through for me.”


“You’re well worth it, Daniel.” He didn’t respond, but Sam knew that his self-esteem had just climbed a little higher. But she still hadn’t gotten him to talk about his feelings about Nick staying behind, and that was still important. “But anyway, you said Nick apologized in the VIP room, when the two of you were talking.”


“He did. He said he was sorry for not adopting me, and that what happened wasn’t my fault.”


“Which it wasn’t,” she added firmly.


“But it doesn’t make a difference anymore, Sam,” he said sadly. “It happened so long ago, and with all the problems we’ve had between us over the years, we really can’t afford to waste any more time. I mean, it’s not like he’s going to live for much longer anyway. And now he’s back on that planet, living it up with his giant aliens, when he shouldn’t even be there.”


“What do you mean?” she asked, somewhat puzzled by that last statement.


He sighed, and then shook his head. “I didn’t say he was supposed to go with us through the Stargate. I told him what to tell you guys, but he added that part about him going just for his own benefit. He didn’t really care what I thought after all. He wanted to go, so he used my predicament to be able to.” He was getting angrier now, but the volume of his voice lowered slightly.


“I didn’t want him to stay there. But he goes and says, ‘This is my life’s work, Daniel.’ But just like always, he’s putting his work in front of me! We had just started dealing with everything that happened with my parents, and adoption, and our theories, and he just threw all of that away, for himself. Sure, he told me he was proud of me, but what does that mean? Seriously, what does that mean? He’s lied to me before, for all I know he could just be saying that again.” He paused for a moment to calm himself before continuing. “It’s just like it always used to be. His obsession, his work, what he wants. That’s all he cares about, not me. It was never about me – it was always about him.”


He sighed, apparently at the end of his story. Sam ran a hand through his hair, and pulled him back onto her shoulder. “Sometimes…” she started, trying to think of something good to say. “Sometimes we run into people in our lives that are like that. There are some very selfish people in the world, Daniel, and we just have to learn to deal with them. I know now, much better than I thought I did before, why you’re upset. And you have every right to be upset, even furious with Nick, for everything, not just for leaving again.” She paused. “But – and I know you’ve heard this before, we all have… you can’t change people. Nick is always going to be selfish, and inconsiderate, and whatever else you want to call him, until he wakes up one day and realizes that he has thrown away so many opportunities to be close to you. And when that day comes, he’s going to see what an arrogant fool he’s been for so many years, and he’s going to change.”


She paused, gathering her thoughts. “But you have to understand that it’s only going to happen because of a change within himself. You can only do one thing – you can change how you are going to react to whatever he does to hurt you. And that’s what you have to do. You can’t just hide your feelings away for years, trying to pretend to yourself that you’re not hurt, because deep in your heart you know that you have been, badly. But you’re strong, Daniel. So much has happened to you, and you still manage to keep yourself afloat. And you’ll be okay.” Smiling gently, she hugged him harder for a moment before letting go. He sat up slowly on the cot and looked at her. “And one of these days, that Stargate is going to dial up, and Nick’ll be coming through. And he’s going to be different, and things will get better between the two of you. Just be grateful that the healing process has begun.”


She stopped talking, and waited for his reply. He gave a small smile, and squeezed her hand gently. “Thanks Sam. Thanks for being here for me.”


“I’ll always be here for you, if you need me, Daniel.” They sat in silence for another few minutes, before Daniel stood up, rubbing his face with his hands.


“I don’t know about you, but I could use some coffee,” he said, smiling softly at her. “Do you want some?”


“I’d love a cup,” she said, grinning up at him. Yes, she thought. The healing process has begun.