In later times, Jack would think back to the trip to P7K-252 - Aegeus - as the turning point of it all. After all, if the Aegeans hadn't been so eager to meet SG-1, then his team rather than Lt. Col. Adamson's would have gone to -4C3 and things would have played out very differently.
In the end, he was glad how things turned out.
He certainly wasn't happy about how it started.
It was a beautiful warm evening on P7K-252. Compared with the wintry weather back in Colorado Springs, the temperature here was balmy.
But then, Jack's thoughts weren't on the weather.
"How long?" He wasn't grilling her about her love life, he was just...asking. Concerned. A friend.
Carter glanced at him briefly, then looked away out over the lake. "A month."
"Oh." He had nothing else that he could say. Sure, there were plenty of things he *wanted* to say, but all of them were based on things they'd never talked about. Things they *couldn't* talk about.
Things they'd probably never talk about, now.
"I guess it was after the Christmas party?" If he kept it light, maybe he wouldn't feel so...strange.
"Yeah." She looked over at him, holding his gaze with the perfect blue of hers and it didn't feel one bit less strange. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Why?" The response was automatic and defensive, hiding his pain. It wasn't like there was anything between them - or had ever been anything between them.
Carter paused, opened her mouth, closed it again and looked away. Jack felt regret swamp him. They'd never talked about 'them', just happily floating along the surface of their interaction with each other on the team. Blindly floating along assuming that these...these feelings...would always be there.
Torchlight flickered beyond her, casting her profile into shadow as she stared down towards the water. The gold limned the delicate lines of forehead, nose, chin and throat and shadowed the hollows of her eyes and her cheeks. She'd always been good-looking - a man would have to be dead and buried not to notice that - but beautiful had come later. Before 'feelings', but after they'd worked together for some time.
He'd been tolerant of her in the beginning, but after a while tolerance became appreciation, appreciation became respect, respect became friendship and somewhere along the way a line had been crossed and Jack never saw it coming until he found himself on one side of a forceshield and her on the other.
They'd hidden it away until they were forced to confess it, then shut it in the room until a memory stamp unlocked the door. Crisis after crisis brought them to the edge of the cliff before they stepped back again and they never said they would - but they never said they wouldn't either.
And in the end, she'd made her decision.
Major Samantha Carter of SG-1 was dating Lieutenant Colonel Grant Adamson of SG-15 and there wasn't a damn thing Colonel Jack O'Neill of SG-1 could do about it.
The sight of her was abruptly too much to bear and he turned away. "I think I'll get some sleep," he said aloud to the night; not quite ignoring her, but not looking at her either.
More than anything else, Jack needed some time to deal with this. It was just dating, sure - but it was the first time he'd had to really face the possibility that there might never be a tomorrow for him and Carter. It was the first time that he'd realised the reason might not be because the war never ended, or because something happened to one or the other, but because they'd moved on and drifted apart.
Some things wouldn't change - their working partnership, the way they related to each other, the harmony that existed between them. Admiration, respect, and trust between them, and the affection of officers who weren't allowed to develop the kinds of ties they might have otherwise have liked.
"Sir..." She paused, as if rethinking her words, then said gently, "That would be a good idea, sir." It wasn't what she'd been going to say and Jack was suddenly relieved she'd given him that much grace. "I think...I think the Aegeans have some...impressive displays being presented in our honour."
"Teal'c's honour," he reminded her. "We're just the hangers on." Humour was safe and acceptable to them both. They knew where they stood when he started cracking jokes. "I swear when they offered him the...what was it?"
"The 'Night Ladies'."
"Yeah, them... I swear the big guy went beet-red under that skin of his!"
Her smile was tentative and his heart suddenly wasn't working properly. "Even if he wasn't, you and Daniel were certainly making up for it, sir."
"Yeah, well..." He stared down at his shoes. There was no way in hell he'd have taken the offer. Even if it wasn't for the 'Keep it in your pants, boys' rule instigated among all Stargating personnel - a rule which had been set up after his disastrous encounter with Kynthia of Argos - he'd never have accepted with Carter sitting there, staring carefully at her plate as the woman offered herself as a 'companion' for the evening. "Have a good night, Carter."
"You too, sir."
One glance up was all it took to lock gazes with her and Jack let his eyes trace the features of her face. They were Colonel O'Neill and Major Carter of SG-1; they always had been and probably always would be.
Jack smiled faintly, dug his hands deeper into his pockets in the hope that the trembling wasn't visible, then turned on his heel and walked away from a woman he couldn't have.
* * *
Daniel was in love.
The marketplace was almost exactly like the marketplaces he remembered in his childhood - full of people, noise, colour and sound. It brought back warm memories of the markets in the town near the first dig he remembered. His smile was automatic as he recalled the sellers who would chatter to the child he had been, admiring his hair and his eyes - so different to their sun-weathered, dark colouring. Then they had cackled with delight as he chattered back to them in their own language and gave him sweetmeats and dried fruits to eat while his parents bought the groceries for the dig.
He glanced at his companion, staring at the ground a few yards in front of her. She was keeping pace with him, but her attention was completely elsewhere. The Goa'uld could have attacked and she would have been oblivious to it all.
Jack would have hauled her out on her ass for such negligence.
Daniel didn't mind - except that she was missing the whole experience of the Aegean culture.
SG-15 had been the team who first contacted the Aegeans. They were surprised to be recognised by the leaders of the Aegean people - until the history of their people became clear.
The Aegeans had been ruled by Cronos until his death. While Cronos' Jaffa had been rounded up and offered the choice of becoming 'free Jaffa' or 'dead Jaffa' after the coup which gained the SGC Cronos' mothership, a single human slave - Cronos' *lotar* - had escaped and made his way through the Stargate to his home planet. Once there, he had related the tale of the people who had defeated the Goa'uld - and almost overnight the face of the culture changed.
According to the Speaker of the Assembly, the revolution had long been in the works. Several hundred years ago, a man and a small human army had arrived through the Chappa'ai while Cronos was off-world. His soldiers had overpowered Cronos' Jaffa and the man had told them the truth of the Goa'uld. He showed them how he had similar powers to Cronos, but decried any form of deity. Many people had refused to believe, but some had listened and wondered.
Forced to return through the Chappa'ai when Cronos returned, the stranger had accepted the rebuke and rejection of the Aegean people and took his soldiers with him. Ironically enough, it was this final action of the stranger which convinced many revolutionaries of the truth of his words.
He took *all* his soldiers, not just the hale and healthy. First, the wounded were carried through, then the dead were carried through by the living and the stranger was the last one to leave. The consideration for the 'human slaves' were what sparked the intrigue of many - for it was well-known that the physically weak or wounded were a liability in the armies of Cronos and a man was better off dead from his wounds than maimed or severely injured. The Jaffa had natural healing powers, but humans were expendable.
And so, when Cronos died at the hands of Teal'c and both SG-1s, the civilisation was ripe for a rebellion and a new set of heroes.
The heroes they chose turned out to be SG-1. Specifically Teal'c, but generally SG-1.
Perhaps it was chance that the Aegeans had settled on a mode of government that their Earth forefathers had developed, or some ancient historian had chronicled the concept in one of their writings - but the Republic of Aegept operated very similarly to the Greco-Roman republic with a Speaker, a Senate and an Assembly.
Daniel had been up half the night studying the culture. It wasn't until Teal'c came out of his state of kel no reem to find his team-mate still awake that Daniel had realised he only had a few hours to sleep before the day began.
This morning, Jack hadn't been in a mood fit for company, so Daniel left a brief word with Teal'c, then went to Sam and coaxed her into the garments the Aegeans had provided for them. "Anthropologists do it all the time," he reminded her and received a glare fit to send him through the wall.
"All right, Daniel," she grimaced. "But no blue dresses! And if I find myself kidnapped and up for sale to some neighbouring chieftain because of this..." Her sentence trailed off mock-ominously.
He grinned as he pointed at the cream-coloured linens laid across the nearby wooden chair. "I don't think you have to worry about the blue, Sam. At least, not today." Mentally making a note to ask if the Aegeans had anything in blue, he left her to dress. Sam rarely had a chance to be 'feminine' and while she claimed she didn't mind being 'one of the guys', Daniel had a sneaking suspicion that the reason she and Janet were always having lunch together was because the testosterone on the base sometimes just got too much.
So he'd dragged her out into the marketplace, hoping that she'd enjoy herself amidst the crowds and away from the stifling influence of her responsibilities at the SGC and as the 2IC of their team.
"Hey, Sam." He touched her arm lightly to get her attention and headed for a stall he'd spotted nearby.
With the hoods of their outer garments pulled over their head, they weren't particularly noticeable in the morning crowds - which was just as well. They'd never have been able to wander freely around like this in their fatigues.
At the booth he'd drawn them over to, a wizened old woman was selling dried fruits and spices.
"I remember these from my childhood," he told her and delved into the shoulderbag which had been with their new clothing. He'd thought he'd heard a slight jangling before, so...ah, yes! "*One bag of these, please.*" He picked up one of the linen bags containing the spiced fig-like fruits which his father had been wont to use as bribes to make his son cease asking questions. If Daniel managed to last the length of the trip without asking a single question, then Melbourne would let his son have five spiced figs. For every question, one fig was taken away. It meant Daniel had to choose his questions carefully - or forfeit his figs.
"*Five obol,*" she replied and Daniel shuffled through the coins, trying to find five which resembled the little Greek coin known as an *obol*.
He paid the vendor before turning to a now-curious Sam and offering her the bag. "Try one."
"Daniel, I don't know..."
He gave her a very hard look and used his 'Jack-being-inflexible-but-nice' voice. "Try it."
It worked. She gingerly fished out one of the dried fruits and with her gaze fixed on his face, nibbled it tentatively. Her eyes widened as she took in the taste - cinnamon and ginger, the slightly aniseed scent of cloves and musky cardamom, all underpinned by the fruity flavour of the fig.
Daniel grinned as he bit into one and let the taste roll over his tongue, lightly tingling his palate. He'd forgotten just how delicious the spiced fig treats were. "Good, aren't they?"
"Yes," she said, half-smiling, before she pushed him lightly on the shoulder. "Don't smile like that!"
"Like what?" he challenged her.
"Like you've just won a major victory! So I haven't been good company this morning..." A shadow of uncertainty flitted across her face. "There were some things I had to think over."
Daniel nodded and turned to the seller who was watching them with open curiosity. "*Thankyou, old mother.*"
"*Keep you going all night those will,*" the elderly woman advised him mendaciously. Her pointed glance from him to his groin and thence to Sam left him in no doubt about her meaning and he flushed helplessly as they wandered away from the stall.
"Uh...nothing." He wasn't about to explain *that* to her. And there was no point correcting the old woman - it was an easy assumption to make. Totally incorrect - he knew perfectly well Sam had never looked at him any way other than a friend and he had the same kind of affection for her - but easy to make.
"I'm not going to tell you, Sam."
She made a soft snorting sound, denoting held-back laughter. "All right, then. Where to next?"
At least she was paying attention to where they were now. She'd been melancholy all morning. It was nearly as bad as Jack's moodiness.
Possible explanations for his team-mates' states of mind suddenly manifested. They'd been left together after the dinner, alone... Had they said something, done something they'd regretted?
He glanced at her, sharply, watching the way she tilted her head to see around the people in the crowd, seeing the slight shadows under her eyes that spoke of not as much sleep as she would have liked.
Daniel shook his head and put his hopes and fears to rest. Much as he might have liked to see his friends come to an arrangement about their relationship - or their not-relationship, according to the regulations - he knew it wasn't going to happen. Jack might break the rules, but Sam wouldn't; and Jack would only cross lines if Sam was willing to cross them, too. Personally, Daniel thought it was stupid - it wasn't like his friends had made a choice to 'care' about each other. They just did. Making it an offence - and one which could get you thrown out of your career - just added insult to injury.
Making a mental note to worm it out of her later, he pointed her in a new direction: "Did you want to get something for Janet and Cassie? There seems to be a woodworking stall over there..."
They wandered over to the stall and spent a long time looking over the small carved animals and intricate wooden balls, like little Russian Baboushka dolls one inside another - except that each ball had been carved within the confines of the next one out - a mastery of fine woodwork.
In the end, they chose a collection of animals for Cassie and a 'cascading ball' for Janet. The symbols carved into the outermost ball were inscriptions against sickness, which Daniel thought was particularly appropriate for the petite doctor. Then Daniel spotted a carved bird that resembled an eagle and thought it would be great for General Hammond. He haggled with the vendor in his broken Aegeptan while Sam inspected some of the wooden bowls and cups that were the woodcarver's principle items.
After much exclaiming and waving of hands, they decided on a final price and Daniel reached into his money pouch, only to have the man shake his head. "*No. No pay.*"
Daniel stared at him, "*But we bartered, good sir. I must pay you for your work...*"
"*I would be a miserable son of my mother were I to accept money from yourself. You are one of those who overcame the one who pretended to be our god for so many years. It is my gift to you and your friend in return for that blessing.*" The man put his fist over his heart and inclined his head to Daniel in a gesture of respect and honour.
By now, Sam had realised something wasn't right and was staring at them both, "Daniel?"
He had two choices: force payment on the man, or accept the gift. He felt bad about not paying for the goods - the pieces were beautiful and would have fetched a magnificent price among dealers on Earth - but to refuse the gesture of the man would be inexcusably rude. "Uh...he knows who we are... He wants to give us the goods as a gift."
"But they're not for us. They're for the General, Janet and Cassie..."
He looked at her, "I don't think it matters to him. It's his gesture and he wants to do it."
"Daniel, we can't just..."
"Shh, Sam." Turning back to the vendor, he put his fist over his heart and inclined his head to the man who looked astounded at the gesture. "*We accept your kind gift, but ask for your name that we may remember your generosity to us unworthies.*"
The vendor blinked, then drew himself up. "*I am Vethis,*" he declared. "*My forefather was Haran, who witnessed the coming of the stranger through the Chappa'ai. He was one of those who believed from that day and he passed his legacy on through his children and his children's children.*"
"*Haran would be proud of his offspring,*" Daniel told the man. "*We thank Vethis bar Haran again for his gift.*"
"*It is I who should be thanking you.*" The man wrapped the wood items up to prevent them from being broken in transit and they tucked the oddly-shaped packages into their bags.
But Vethis was not finished. From a corner of his stall he pulled a long flat box with a twisting pattern of vines and flowers carved on the lid. The wood had a deep golden sheen to it, the grain of the fibres flashing in the sunlight as he opened the lid revealing a necklace of delicate wooden flowers and leaves resembling the ones on the lid of the box. The work was exquisite. "*For your friend. A woman of such beauty should have ornaments to adorn her.*"
Daniel grinned and glanced over at Sam. While she might not understand the language fully, she couldn't escape the admiration in the wood-carver's eyes. "Um...Daniel..."
"Relax, I'm not going to trade you off," he teased her and watched her eyes flash angrily at the reference. "It's a gift."
"He already gave us the animals and the ball."
"This is for you."
She glanced from the seller to the necklace to Daniel. "Uh...I don't think..."
"Sam, it's nothing to be worried about. It's just a gift. Like an uncle would give."
"He's not my uncle, Daniel."
Daniel grinned. "I noticed that. Look, just accept it, Sam. It's almost like advertising."
"Yes. Wear that to tonight's banquet, then people will ask where you got it from. You tell them Vethis gave it to you and he has instant patronage from the people in power." An amusing thought went through Daniel's mind. "Think of it as the 'sponsorship concept' of the ancient world." She didn't share his amusement, but he could see her admiration of the work. "Trust me, Sam."
She looked from the necklace to him, to the woodcarver, who was regarding her benignly, then smiled, slowly. "Thankyou." She inclined her head to the carver - a little stiffly, perhaps, but then Sam wasn't comfortable with such gestures.
"*She has difficulty accepting compliments,*" Vethis observed to Daniel. "*Surely she would be accustomed to them?*"
"*My friend is modest,*" Daniel answered. It was as good an explanation as any. "*We thankyou for your gift.*" He glanced at his team-mate and pronounced, "'Tahki'im'. Thankyou."
"Tah-keem," Sam said, misprouncing it a little and Vethis chuckled.
"*She is welcome and more than welcome to it. It is a small thing that women should be admired and that men should have the delight of admiring.*"
Daniel thought of what Sam would say to that and declined to translate, instead thanking Vethis as they tucked the purchases into their bags and set off down the market streets again. They wandered along the rows of stalls, wending their way in and out of the crowds, the hot press of bodies in the bright morning sun.
"They're not big on personal hygiene are they?" Sam muttered as a pair of burly guards walked by, their odor spread before them.
"Sponge baths are the most usual way the masses clean themselves," he told her. "There are public baths, but they're mostly for the men..."
"They need them," she muttered darkly, glaring after the two men who had offended her nose. Then she turned back. "Where next?"
"Khembi said there were some Goa'uld inscriptions around the water fountain at the sunwards end of the markets..." he said, trying not to sound hopeful.
Sam eyed him piercingly, then smiled. "Okay. Which way?"
"Uh...that way...I think."
"Yeah." Meandering down to the fountain, Daniel found the courage to ask, "So do you know what's up with Jack this morning?"
Attuned to her body language, he noted the way she paused. "Maybe he didn't sleep well last night."
"Maybe." Daniel made it clear he wasn't biting. He wasn't about to jump in and see where the current took him, but it was worth noting that Sam tensed up at the doubtfulness in his voice. Sam was easy to read when it came to body language, much like Daniel himself.
Whatever was eating at Jack had something to do with Sam and you didn't have to be a theoretical astrophysicist to guess what it was. In fact, it was probably easier to guess when you weren't a theoretical astrophysicist. But while Daniel might have a gut-feeling about what was up with his team-mate, he wasn't fool enough to act on it.
They'd emerged into a public square, colonnaded buildings enclosing the space, a large stone-carved water fountain in the centre of it and people scattered everywhere. In the heat of the midday sun, most people were congregating in clusters on the porches and porticoes of the buildings.
Most groups clustered around single speakers, although whether it was soapbox philosophy as had been found in the Areopathagus in Roman Ephesus or some other form of knowledge-passing, Daniel didn't know but was curious to find out. He tugged at Sam's sleeve since she was staring off in another direction. "Might be a good idea to stick together in this crowd," he began, but her response caught his attention.
"That's the Colonel and Teal'c over there," she pointed. "Over by the small fountain."
Teal'c's dark skin was very clearly visible amidst the olive-skinned Aegeans and Jack was also distinct in the crowd of faces with his paler skin. The two men were seated on steps leading up to one of the buildings - Daniel's knowledge of ancient cities conceded that it was probably a public building of some kind or another - and had quite a collection of listeners sitting and standing around them.
The seated crowd seemed to be mainly adolescents, girls and boys who didn't look older than eighteen or nineteen, while the standing crowd were mostly adults.
Daniel and Sam drew in along the edge of the crowd. With the cowls of their robes covering their heads, dressed in the local garb, they weren't recognisable as the 'heroes of Aegept'. Not compared with Jack and Teal'c, both of whom were dressed in their 'desert fatigues'. Or, in Jack's case, undressed in fatigues.
Jack had his shirt off, displaying a lean physique marked by scars that were at once impressive and frightening. Exactly what his friend had done to gain those scars, Daniel had no idea, only that it hadn't been nice. He'd seen the scars many times before and wondered - but he'd never asked. He'd never dared to.
"What are they doing?" Sam asked.
"Don't know...shh...listen..." It took a moment for his ears to adjust to the noise levels and pick up Jack's distinctive voice speaking.
"...this set, during a mission into enemy territory back about...oh...eighteen years ago. I was laid up in a city with a fever for nearly two months after they got infected." The memory of his pain resonated through the crowd. He glanced up at the adults, then back down to the children. "War isn't pretty or glorious, people. The historians may make it sound brave and exciting - but it's messy and brutal and definitely not fun." Glancing over at Teal'c, he indicated the dark Jaffa. "Teal'c can tell you that. He served the snake-head Apophis for more years than I've been alive. He's seen more men, women and children die than are probably on this planet." Jack reached for his shirt as Teal'c took up the thread of the conversation.
"Indeed, I have. I have watched comrades die writhing as their wounds poisoned their bodies. I have seen children - babies - slain for nothing more than the revenge of the Goa'uld against the Goa'uld their parents served. Fighting is neither glorious, nor beautiful. It would be well if you never saw it in your life."
"I guess some of the kids are getting ideas about fighting against the Goa'uld," he murmured.
"Looks like it," Sam replied quietly and indicated several women who had edged a little closer to Jack on the other side of the crowd. "And I guess some of the women are getting ideas about the Colonel."
At this point, Daniel had two choices. He could ask a question which would probably cause her to snap his head off, or he could make a non-committal answer.
He chose to take his life in his hands.
"Are you going to shoo them off?"
"Why should I?"
"Um...because you and Jack..."
"...are colleagues," she said quietly. Too quietly. "Nothing more." There was none of her usual defensiveness regarding her relationship with Jack - or the not-relationship they had, just a resignation which Daniel hadn't seen in her in a long time.
"Grant Adamson, then?"
She looked at him sharply. "What makes you say that?"
"The Christmas party," he said. Her gaze forced him to add, "And...Janet mentioned something..."
"She had no right..."
"It slipped out the other night," Daniel said defensively.
"The other *night*?"
Daniel flushed at her tone of voice. "It was a thank-you dinner for helping out after Cassie's illness."
"Daniel, that was over eight months ago."
"It kept being put off, okay?"
"Sure." She didn't sound like she believed it.
They turned back to watch their team-mates. There were definitely women in the crowd looking hungrily at Jack. And if Jack saw them watching, he wasn't averse to the attention. "Are you sure about this, Sam?"
"Daniel, it's none of your business."
"If it damages us as a team, it's my business, Sam."
"Can you be sure of that?"
"Yes." The answer was unequivocal, without room for doubt or disbelief. Daniel was willing to bet that if he'd asked Jack the question, the answer would have been exactly the same.
Teal'c and Jack were now answering questions about the death of Cronos, with both children and adults excited to hear about their robot doubles and the part they had played in the coup. Teal'c's eyes flickered once towards Daniel and Sam, probably alerted to their presence by the proximity of the naquadah in Sam's bloodstream, but he made no movement to uncover their presence in the crowd as the questions continued.
Daniel shifted. He understood how the Aegeans wished to know more about SG-1, but while they were questioning Jack and Teal'c he could be wandering around looking at the inscriptions about the Goa'uld. "Sam," he whispered. "Can we go back out to the fountain...?"
They made their way out of the crowd, back to the fountain and she watched as he crouched down at the fountain's rim to inspect the carved letterings around the edge.
The Aegeans had three dialects they used. Their own language - an ancient Greek variant, high Goa'uld and the common Goa'uld dialect.
Daniel had bartered with Vethis the woodcarver in the Greek variant, but SG-1 usually spoke the common Goa'uld dialect in which they communicated with local planetary cultures. English was used for when they wanted to communicate privately among themselves - or when it was just themselves.
Early on in their travels through the Stargate, Daniel had divided the Goa'uld tongue into two primary dialects: high Goa'uld, the dialect which the Goa'uld and Jaffa used; and common Goa'uld, which was used by most of the humans settled by the Goa'uld on planets throughout the galaxy. Most writing was in high Goa'uld - common Goa'uld had no written form, only the verbal form.
This was no exception.
It was easy enough to read, although the content was a little puzzling.
"Unseen, we walk,
A thousand years, we live,
And someday we shall reclaim our destiny."
A riddle of some kind?
"What does it say?"
He translated it for her, standing up with his hand trailing in the water of the fountain.
He shrugged, bewildered. "I have no idea."
"Cryptic. Who designed the fountain?"
"Don't know. Presumably it was Cronos who required the inscription, but if so, then why claim his destiny 'someday'? He already had achieved his 'destiny' as a System Lord." Daniel glanced over at his team-mate who was studying the design of the fountain. "What's so interesting about the design?"
He came and stood beside her as she pointed out the design of the structure.
"The use of water pressure - it's a recycled water fountain. Most fountains from the ancient world were situated on natural springs which produces the water pressure to pump the water out. The principles of hydraulics were known in the ancient Greek world, but the amount of energy it took to design such a thing was thought to be better used for moving water through aqueducts, or for the glory of the gods such as the hydraulically opened doors in the temple of Zeus in Athens."
"Cronos *was* a Goa'uld."
Sam smiled ruefully, "Yeah. I'd still be interested in knowing who designed this - and whether they still have the blueprints for it. The kind of engineering that went into this."
There was a step behind them and a voice drawled, "Admiring the architecture, kids?"
"Something like that, Jack." Daniel turned to regard their team-mate and commanding officer, standing behind them, hands on his hips. "Have you managed to persuade the children that war isn't all it's made out to be?"
"I think some of them still have stars in their eyes, but...most of them have the idea. They'll be okay." Jack's eyes flickered over their outfits, but his question was directed at Sam. "Gone native, Carter?"
She glanced down at her outfit, temporarily taken aback. "Uh...Daniel's fault, sir."
Daniel grinned, "Anthropologists..."
"...do it all the time. Yeah, Daniel, we know." Jack shook his head and pulled the hood on Daniel's head over his eyes, holding it down. "Anyway, I spotted you guys lurking on the edge of the crowd..."
Pushing the other man's hand away, Daniel righted his cowl, "And here we thought our disguises were so good."
Jack gave him a 'look'. "Daniel, the pair of you could be caked in mud in the dead of night in the midst of a tribe of...of...of people who cake themselves in mud and I'd still be able to pick either of you out of fifty others within half a dozen steps."
"Really?" That surprised him, although he didn't know why. People had distinctive walks and gaits and once you knew what you were looking for, it was easy to pick one person out in a crowd.
"Yes." Jack turned to Sam. "Carter, Teal'c's giving you a really impressive rap as a woman-warrior - and I thought you might want to go over there and uphold it."
"Yes, sir." One side of her mouth pulled up and she began walking back to where Teal'c was still sitting on the steps.
"You don't have to play to the crowd if you don't want to, you know!" Jack called after her.
She turned on her heel, a neat little swivel-step that she'd somehow picked up off Jack - Daniel had seen the movement in the older man countless times. "I know, sir."
"Hey, Carter!" Sam stopped and Jack crossed over to her, pulling the hood of her robe down so her hair was clearly visible in the bright sunlight. She stiffened slightly at the intimacy of the gesture and he murmured something to her which she half-smiled at before she kept walking.
Daniel wandered over to Jack, noting a couple of women wandering nearby who were staring at his team-mate and talking quietly behind their hands. "She looks good in the local dress."
"Uh-huh." The sound was non-committal enough to have satisfied even the most strait-laced stickler for military propriety.
"She got a necklace as a gift from a woodcarver."
"Are you listening to a thing I'm saying, or are you watching Sam sashay her way across the square?"
*Tha*t got Jack's attention. "Carter doesn't 'sashay' anywhere."
"Oh, so you *are* listening."
"Daniel, shut up."
"How'd the whole talk about the war against the Goa'uld start up anyway?"
"Oh, Teal'c and I were having a wander around - trying to find you two, actually - and several of the kids came up and wanted to know about the Goa'uld we'd killed. One of them had big ideas about joining the SGC and killing Goa'uld himself." Jack shrugged. "He can't have been much older than Charlie..." The sentence stopped abruptly, before Jack continued. "We sat him down to convince him and his friends that it wasn't all it was made out to be and...somehow...got an audience."
"Do you think the kids will listen?"
Another shrug. "I don't know. Hopefully they will."
"And the scar-display?"
"They needed visible proof that war doesn't leave a man whole, Daniel. They'd be more willing to believe the words of an old, worn-out vet who has the souvenirs to show for his life."
There was a faint undertow of self-mockery in the older man's voice as he spoke and Daniel snorted. "You, old and worn-out?" He glanced at the people standing around them. "Don't look now, but I can see at least a dozen women who'd disagree with you about the old-and-worn-out bit, Jack."
A half-smile touched Jack's mouth, but faded quickly and Daniel took another leap into uncertainty.
"Unless it's not the twelve who disagree, but the one you think agrees."
Jack stopped walking. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Daniel glanced over to the crowd, where Sam had just climbed up next to Teal'c and was listening to what he had to say. A few seconds later, Jack drew alongside him.
"She's dating Adamson," Jack said, much too calmly. "Has been for a month."
And she hadn't told them. She hadn't told Jack.
That had to hurt - even just a little.
"Adamson's not that much younger than you."
"I never said he wasn't." The response left no room for continuation of the topic - unless Daniel decided to address it directly.
He was tempted. Jack tended to hide things behind layers of sarcasm and jokes, indifference and a reserved expression. Over the years, Daniel had found the USAF Colonel to be like an onion - layers upon layers and to see into the soul of the man was a privilege granted to very few.
But what was there to say? Sam was dating a guy who seemed nice enough, although he certainly wasn't Jack by a long shot. And however Jack felt about his subordinate's personal relationships, he would continue to work with her, day in, day out.
Daniel knew perfectly well that his friends would say the right things and act the right way as long as people were watching them, but there'd be some measure of private heartache as Jack watched Sam go home to Grant Adamson, or as Sam watched Jack find love with someone else. And Teal'c and Daniel would watch as the ties which bound the two officers chafed thin, but refused to break.
Well, things were the way they were. And this was the way it was.
It didn't mean Daniel didn't quietly hope for things to turn out otherwise.
* * *
"Welcome back, SG-1. I take it all went well on P7K-252?"
"Absolutely peachy, sir. Teal'c was a hit. The Aegeans loved him."
From his position at the base of the ramp, Teal'c regarded his team-mate steadily. O'Neill's mood of ebullience for the last two days had been unabated since he assumed it. It had been an improvement on the initial melancholy of their first morning on Aegept, but Teal'c silently admitted that his friend's energy could be...trying. Witness the weary expressions on the faces of Daniel Jackson and Major Carter.
"Very well. Your briefing will be in four hours at 1200, SG-1. Dr. Fraiser is waiting for you in the infirmary."
"Peachy," drawled O'Neill, a mere moment before a siren began blaring overhead.
"Unscheduled off-world activation of the Stargate!"
"General?" O'Neill glanced up. "I thought all teams were in except for us."
"SG-15 are three hours overdue, Colonel - this could be them."
Teal'c caught the worried glance Daniel Jackson gave Major Carter and puzzled over it as he stepped off the ramp and followed his team-mates up to the control room.
"They didn't report in at the appointed time, sir?"
"No. We opened the gate and tried to communicate, but they were out of range."
Teal'c frowned. Whenever a team was sent off-world to make contact with a new civilisation, there was always the potential for conflict or coercion. While the civilisation of P9D-4C3 had appeared untouched by the Goa'uld, there was always the possibility of subterfuge - the Goa'uld were not know for subtlety in warring against each other, but with the recent appearance of the banished Goa'uld Anubis, anything was possible. Over thousands of years, what new techniques and trickery had the Goa'uld learned? How long would it be before Anubis taught the System Lords such practices?
In the gateroom, the iris snapped shut, even as the top chevron clicked into place and brilliant blue light flared throughout the room.
There was a tense pause, both up in the control room and down in the gateroom as they waited for either the IDC to be transmitted or some form of contact to be attempted.
Sergeant Davis' fingers were tapping rapidly across the keys, trying to determine the approximate origination point of the wormhole. "Transmission coming through. SG-15 iris code!"
"Open the iris!"
The steel fangs of the iris retracted, displaying the watery blue puddle of light, refracting and reflecting with eddying shimmers.
They waited. And waited.
"Not receiving...wait...incoming travellers."
A moment later, a young man in fatigues emerged, walking briskly, his hands held out from his body. Teal'c recognised the officer as Lieutenant Tim Rumlow. The young Lieutenant was a good friend of Daniel Jackson's and usually a high-spirited cheerful young man. However, there was a strange look upon his face as he came down the ramp, his team emerging from the event horizon behind him.
"We have to get to the infirmary!" Lt. Colonel Grant Adamson cried hoarsely, glancing from his team-mate to the control room. "Rumlow's been exposed to radiation!"
Daniel Jackson had already turned on his heel and was headed out to the corridor which would intercept SG-15, Major Carter only one step behind him.
"Radiation...?" O'Neill's voice held confusion, but he followed behind his team-mates as General Hammond requested a medical team to meet them on the way. Teal'c understood his friend's confusion. SG-1 had been initially scheduled to visit the planet SG-15 had just departed - a civilisation which had been several decades behind Earth's current technological level. Exposure to such radiation should have been highly unlikely.
"Don't touch me!" The cry came from the Lieutenant in the corridor.
"What happened?" Daniel's urgent demand came.
The question was echoed by the General as he caught up to them in the corridor, the members of both teams trailing behind Lieutenant Rumlow like a string of beads.
"Don't know, sir," there was a tense note in Colonel Adamson's voice as he spoke. "The details weren't made clear to us."
"What kind of exposure did he have?" That was Major Carter, inquiring of the other members of SG-15.
"W...we don't know," Captain Vang said, stuttering a little under the pressure. "There was a device. It was powered by a radioactive v...variation of naquadah."
"A *variation* of naquadah?"
"Don't touch me!" The cry yanked their heads around to look at Lieutenant Rumlow, backing away from the two nurses who had appeared in the door. "I'm probably still radioactive."
"Let's get him scrubbed down," Dr. Fraiser's voice rang out clearly down the corridor. "What happened?"
SG-1 hung back from the doorway, standing behind General Hammond and the remaining members of SG-15 as Captain Vang explained what she knew of the situation.
"...he had contact with the material for several seconds - I th...think he was exposed t...to eight or n...nine rads of radiation..."
Beside Teal'c, Major Carter sucked her breath in as Dr. Fraiser blurted: "Oh God."
"That's not good, I take it," O'Neill muttered to Major Carter.
Major Carter turned her head a little and spoke very softly. "It's a lethal dose, sir."
The next hour was a blur.
SG-1 waited in the infirmary, letting the nurses deal first with the exposed Lieutenant, then with his shocked team-mates. The need to clear SG-15 of any radiation exposure came first. So they waited.
Daniel Jackson seemed the most agitated, pacing back and forth until O'Neill hauled him to sit down on the bed where SG-1 was waiting for their post-gate. "Jack!"
"You're not gonna do anyone good by wearing yourself out, Daniel."
What was strange to Teal'c was the way in which O'Neill was almost completely motionless himself. Usually constantly in motion, O'Neill was now as still and tense as a hunter stalking prey. Major Carter was sitting on the bed, as Daniel Jackson sat down next to her, she leaned her elbow on his shoulder and rested her head on her elbow. The physical contact appeared to steady them both and while O'Neill looked as though he would have liked to have been part of the contact, he remained where he was.
SG-15 was cleared to go, but they hovered around, shooting anxious glances at their team-mate, still in the OR.
"Out!" The orderly declared. "Go through the showers and come back when you don't stink. We're running tests on him, we'll be at least another forty-five minutes and we've got SG-1 to look over. You can't do anything to help him, so you might as well do something else."
Colonel Adamson watched his team go out and then glanced back at SG-1. His gaze lingered on Major Carter before he followed his team to the locker rooms.
"Right, SG-1, step this way."
No problems were identified during post-gate and they went off to have their showers.
Major Carter offered to wait until her team-mates had been through the showers and while Daniel Jackson had not protested, O'Neill had paused, his voice quietly asking, "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure, sir."
The three men went in, stripped down and stepped into the showers in a ritual which was usually punctuated by quips and chatter, but today was silent and somber.
Hot showers as the SGC sported were unknown among the Goa'uld and therefore unknown among the planets they inhabited. It was only on Earth that Teal'c had discovered such luxuries. Under the shower head, Teal'c let his muscles relax and ease a little. While the hot baths on P7K-252 had been delightful, the needles of spray massaged his back and soothed his senses.
Aegeus had been a pleasant planet to stay on, but Teal'c had never felt fully comfortable there. There was an edgy feeling in his bones about the planet - nothing to do with the people, just a feeling he had.
When Teal'c emerged from the shower, refreshed, Daniel Jackson was already gone.
O'Neill glanced up from where he was retying his boots, "Daniel's gone to check up on Rumlow in the infirmary."
"He and Lieutenant Rumlow were good friends."
"Yeah. And so Daniel loses another friend." O'Neill put his head in his hands, ruffling through the greying strands. "God, there are days when this place just seems like one big cemetary."
"Friends fall in war, O'Neill, but their legacies live on."
"The ultimate cliché," O'Neill snorted, before the anger in him deflated. "Yeah. Maybe. Doesn't make it easier on the ones left behind."
"Life is not simple." It was yet another cliché. Yet it was all Teal'c had to offer his friend. And while clichés might be overused and much abused, there was frequently a certain truth to them. That was why they became clichés - because their truth caused them to be appropriate to many situations.
"But I'll bet nobody ever imagines it's gonna be this difficult either," O'Neill said, wearily. For a moment, Teal'c wondered if he should say something more to his friend to renew his hope and courage. Then his friend shook himself, rather like a man waking up from a strange dream. "Okay, I'm being self-pitying right now. I'm heading up to Hammond's office to see what the deal with Rumlow and SG-15 is. See you in the briefing - two hours!" And out he went.
Teal'c pondered his friend's peculiar behaviour - both the enthusiasm of the last few days on Aegept and the peculiar melancholy which had descended on O'Neill after this latest disaster. He finished drying himself and swiftly dressed, still considering what action he could take to divert O'Neill's thoughts from such directions.
When he emerged from the locker room, Major Carter was still waiting as she had been before they went in to shower. However, she was no longer alone.
Beside her sat Lieutenant Colonel Adamson, his hand resting familiarly on her leg. While Major Carter looked discomfited at Teal'c's expression of surprise, she did not look uncomfortable with the Colonel's intimacy. The personal nature of the pose showed Teal'c that this was not a recent development.
"Major Carter, the locker room is available for your use. I will see you in the debriefing."
At the end of the corridor, Teal'c turned and caught the brief kiss exchanged between Major Carter and the Colonel before she went into the locker room and shut the door.
As Teal'c walked to the elevator, he pondered what Major Carter's relationship might mean for SG-1. It would change things among them, with more of her time being spent with Colonel Adamson instead of with her team-mates.
Then there was the matter of the...delicate nature of the bond between O'Neill and Major Carter. While it had been nearly two years since the forced confession between them, the feelings revealed had not faded - as far as Teal'c could see. They might not show themselves openly or affectionately, but the friendship was still there and until now there had been the possibility of more.
Yet he knew that relationships came and went, and people made decisions, changed and adjusted to change.
Teal'c had the utmost faith in O'Neill and Major Carter. Whatever trials their friendship would undergo as a result of this, they would remain friends. Both were too stubborn and too strong in character and personality to otherwise let the Major's relationship damage the team - just as they had refused to let their own friendship and 'possibility of more' damage SG-1. Both would need Teal'c's support in the coming months.
And Teal'c would be there to give it to them.
* * *
Daniel was still in his office thirty-four hours after their return home from Aegeus.
Jack found him sitting there, staring at a pile of paper on his desk.
Daniel didn't look up. "Hey."
"You should get some sleep."
"Yeah." No move to head for his quarters was made. "Is *he* settled in?" The question was almost resentful, as if Daniel was sulking about the time Jack had been helping Hammond sort out the deal with their most recent defector.
*It's becoming a collection,* Jack grumbled to himself. *First Teal'c, then Nyan, now this Jonas Quinn...*
The young man seemed nice enough, if not the emotional type. The remorse and revulsion for his country's actions was real enough - just subdued. Quinn was well aware that he was a stranger here in a place which had no cause to welcome him. He had waited for the pronouncement of his fate, fully prepared to walk back up the ramp to his own people to suffer the consequences of his actions.
The quiet, dignity of the man was hard to ignore - and much as Jack was angry at the situation, he didn't have it in him to hate the alien, or even dislike him. Not that he'd be Quinn's best friend or anything, but Jack remembered a time when the lies spun around him seemed thicker than he could bear and he'd propagated those lies to his wife and their friends for the sake of his country.
He knew the feeling of being burdened with a weighty choice and while the world had never hinged on him during that time - lucky for the world - it wasn't a pleasant feeling.
"Yeah," he said, in answer to Daniel's question. "He's settled in. Not quite sure what to do with himself..."
"Throwing him through an incoming wormhole would be a start," came the muttered response.
Jack told himself it was that wonderful feeling of nearly-midnight after an thirty-four hour no-sleep deathwatch which was causing this brief vengefulness in the usually very amiable Daniel. At least he hoped it was. After everything else which had happened in the last few days - his heart ruthlessly reminded him about Carter and Adamson - he wasn't feeling up to coping with Daniel Jackson in a bloodlust.
"Well, I suggested getting some sleep. Or at least pretending to sleep." Jack regarded his friend, wearily. "And I'm going to suggest the same thing to you."
As Daniel shifted in his chair, Jack knew that sleep wasn't going to be an option. The younger man was practically vibrating with pent-up anger and grief as he fingered his pen back and forth between his fingers restlessly. Even Sha'ure's death hadn't been this bad - just a cold, tired resignation at the unhappy ending.
And Jack understood how Daniel felt. Another good man dead. Another lie to tell the family and friends about how he died. Another burden to carry. For once he answered the unspoken question rather than the spoken one. "It doesn't get easier as time goes on, you know, Daniel."
"I know." There was a tightness to the younger man's voice. "I'm just..." He pulled his glasses off and looked directly at Jack. "I'm tired of everyone dying around me, Jack."
It wasn't quite a whine, but it was close. Daniel tossed his glasses to the table and leaned back in the chair, massaging the bridge of his nose with his eyes shut.
At a loss for anything to say, Jack stared at the pile of paper sitting on the desk. Absently, his mind read the up-side down words printed on the top page. 'A Detailed Analysis of Tau'ri development based on studies of Earth-based cultures as planted by the Goa'uld throughout the Stargate network - Timothy Rumlow.'
Ah. The young man had been working on a thesis and Daniel had probably been his mentor. That explained the closeness - Daniel had his protégés among the newer officers of the SGC, just as Carter did.
Blue eyes opened and blinked at him. "Did you know that when I went to see Tim, all I could think of was that it could have been me? If we'd gone to Kelowna instead of SG-15, then I would have been the one with Jonas when they started the testing - and I'd have probably ended up dead."
Yeah, like *that* was a thought Jack needed right now. "Well, we didn't, you didn't."
Daniel grimaced, slumping over his arms. "I wish it *had* been me."
That scared Jack shitless. Daniel could get self-pitying in those moments when he'd had a beer...or half. He'd been on the verge of leaving the SGC after they returned from that planet where Mother Nature was looking after the harcesis kid - Teal'c had talked him into staying on. God only knew what the big guy had said, because Teal'c wouldn't spill the beans. But he'd never known Daniel to express a death-wish before. And having been at the point where death was the only way out, Jack hated to think that one of his friends was going through that same kind of hell - even if it wasn't for the same reasons. "For crying out loud, Daniel, *why*?"
It was hardly the most sensitive thing to say - but Daniel had hopefully learned that Jack was not the most sensitive of souls.
"Because I'm tired of losing people I care about, Jack!"
The cry echoed with a part of Jack's own soul. He understood the tiredness in Daniel. He felt it in himself more days than not. Life ground you down, wore you flat with its burdens and there were days when you felt you'd been ground so thin a harsh word could break you.
There were days when you had to watch a good man die, settle in a newly uprooted and slightly-frightened-but-not-showing-it alien, order home the man who was dating a woman you cared about and haul a friend out of the mire of lifelong weariness.
Jack felt thin and shadowy himself.
"Daniel..." He stopped. What could he say? Pointless platitudes and stupid clichés sprung to his lips, but he had enough sense not to give them voice. Instead, he rose from the stool. "I'm headed home." He gave his friend a brief, reassuring smile. "Get some sleep, Daniel. Please."
There wasn't much else he could say or do. You could lead Daniel Jackson to water, but the man was stubborn as...as...well, as stubborn as Jack O'Neill.
The scrape of chair on cement floor was something of a surprise. Jack had expected Daniel to stay there all night - it wouldn't be the first time his friend pulled an all-nighter to escape facing some emotional detail he didn't care to look in the eye. "I'll head up to my quarters, I guess," Daniel said, quietly.
Jack nodded and the two men made their way to the elevators in comfortable silence until the elevator arrived.
"Sam went home?"
"Yeah." Jack paused. "She wanted to stay around.I figured she'd be better off at home getting some sleep instead of being here worrying..." *Worrying about Adamson.*
That had hurt. Not that Carter hovered, only that she sat at the observation window far longer than she should have, even after all the avenues of possibility for Rumlow's survival had been eliminated one by one. Sending her home had been more of an order than a request. She'd seen the concern for her in his eyes and at least she hadn't begrudged it. Whatever she was to Adamson was irrelevant. She was one of Jack's people and one of his friends and in some ways that mattered over and above anything else between them.
Even the soft squeeze of her hand on his arm as she made for the elevators on her way out had bolstered him. Now that hope of anything more between them was gone, the touch was acceptable. "You get some sleep too, sir."
He'd nodded to her, lying - and they both knew it.
The elevator doors closed behind him and Daniel as they leaned against the walls.
"I told Hammond I'd give him the briefing on the Aegeans tomorrow, but otherwise tomorrow's downtime for us," he told Daniel as he'd told both Teal'c and Carter previously.
Daniel just nodded, lost in his own thoughts.
The elevator finally stopped at the appropriate floor and Daniel got out and held the door open with one hand. "Jack?"
"It's no fun losing people you care about."
Jack thought of many men under his command and of John Michaels; he thought of Charlie, Sara and Kawalsky. He thought of the desolate time on Edora and the sight of Carter's face behind a force shield. He thought of Daniel on an alien ship with a bomb due to blow it up and Teal'c shot in the back by Tanith and his Jaffa. He thought of those hours after Carter's car was found in the parking lot of her local gym, after Teal'c was trapped in the Stargate, when Daniel was off playing intergalactic-assassin-of-mystery with the System Lords. And he thought of Carter standing on a balcony, gently telling him about her and Adamson.
"No." It wasn't fun losing people you cared about.
Daniel smiled, thin and brief and nodded, almost to himself, before he dropped his hand and headed down the corridor. "'Night, Jack."
The doors closed.
Up at the surface, he signed out. Maybe he could have stayed in his quarters overnight, but Jack preferred waking up in his own bed whenever he could. If it meant the half-hour drive either way, he could live with that.
He drove home on automatic, his brain too tired to even concentrate on the road. If a deer had stepped out on the road, he wouldn't have had the presence of mind to swerve around it.
But at the intersection of North-Fifty-First and West-Twenty-Four, he paused.
If he turned left, he'd be heading home. If he turned right, however, he'd be driving towards Carter's place.
It was a stupid thought - but he was at the stage where his brain *really* wasn't working beyond basic survival instincts. And one of these survival instincts was screaming at him to find someone to talk to. To feel *human* instead of like a robot - to give him enough hope until morning when he'd be able to cope with life again, instead of feeling so worn and thin.
It was late, but Carter would understand. She might be a bit grumpy, but she'd understand.
All he'd do was go in and talk to her, just warm the coldness inside him with her presence for a little while - enough to tide him over to the morning. Enough to keep him through the cold, blue of darkness until the sun rose and created the world around him anew. Enough hope and friendship and something-which-he-could-never-have for him to believe again.
The only thing he was worried about, the only thing he feared, was that he mightn't want to leave at the end of the night. It would be a very effective way of ruining her career, to say nothing of their friendship. And now there was her relationship with Adamson to consider too. Jack couldn't just waltz into Carter's apartment as if he had every right to be there. That privilege belonged to another man.
So Jack waited there while his mind wearily ticked over his needs and his misgivings, his hands on the wheel, indicators off, trying to work out which way to go.
Left or right?
Home or Carter?
He spun the wheel right.
* * *
Sam woke up with the unfamiliar feel of someone beside her in the bed. Curled up against her, one arm possessively flung over her waist.
A momentary elation came over her. She'd made her choice and burned her bridges.
The thought was curiously freeing.
Slipping out from under his arm, out from the bed, she put on a pair of sweat pants and a sweat-top over her sleeping tee. Then she turned to study her new lover. He'd come to her last night, in need of her company - in need of what little compassion she could give him. Tired and worn down and fragile in soul, even if he'd been passionate in body.
He'd come to her for comfort and although the kind of comfort he'd wanted had begun platonically, it had ended up moving across lines they weren't ready to breach. In the end, they'd spoken about where they were going - where *this* was taking them and whether they wanted to end up there. And when the questions were asked and answered and the issues which haunted them addressed, they'd made love.
She didn't like to think about how long he'd lain awake before slumbering - it was probably why he slept so soundly now. Reluctant to disturb him, Sam closed the door quietly behind her.
In the kitchen, she moved about, making her morning coffee, listening as her neighbour's water pipes groaned under the weight of the water and the thump of feet on the ceiling overhead indicated that the Copeman kids were being marched out the door.
There were moments when she missed the quiet of her old house, the peace of her old street - but it was too large for one person and she'd rattled around in it. Then, too, it had some painful memories - her possessions pulled apart, her furniture stripped bare in the eagerness of the NID to lay hands on anything Orlin had left behind. They'd taken the emerald (and Sam would have loved to see how they explained that to the jeweller) and the miniature burned-out Stargate.
Her house had been a shambles and rather than painstakingly trying to tidy it up, she decided to make a clean break.
So the following weekend, she moved out.
Sam never knew how the guys got wind of it, but their presence on her doorstep at 0730 on a Saturday morning was a kind of apology. Certainly, she took out any residual anger at their betrayal of her during the Orlin incident by turning them into moving-and-cleaning crew. There was a certain pleasure in handing the Colonel a bottle of toilet cleanser and telling him that the bathroom was his responsibility. Not that there was that much cleaning to be done.
This apartment, while somewhat noisy, suited her purposes well. She didn't rattle around in it quite so badly when she came home and it was cosy when the guys came around for the occasional 'hang-out'.
The coffee was set up to percolate when the knock came on the door, startling her. It was much too early for most people to be up and about...apart from herself, of course.
As the second knock sounded on the door, she thought fleetingly of the man in her bed, then dismissed the thought. Whoever it was would be gone before he woke.
Except that the man standing in the corridor look like hell warmed over.
"May I come in, Carter?"
Nodding, Sam opened the door wider to let him in, concern warring with resignation as he stepped past her into the room.
She closed the door behind him and hoped that there wasn't any obvious evidence of Grant's presence in her apartment. Not that she really had anything to hide now that she'd already told him about Grant. That had been fifteen of the longest minutes in her life. Knowing that the news would hurt him and yet having to tell him, because she owed him that much.
So when she turned and found him standing two steps into the house, facing her with a quietly desolate expression on his face, her heart skipped a beat. "Sir?"
One corner of his mouth tugged upwards, but his eyes didn't change at all. Tired eyes - weary with the weight of years in them. "Have you ever had one of those weeks when just the act of living is more than you can take?"
She had. And, in that knowledge and safe with the memory of the man in her bed, she held out her arms to him.
It wasn't that she didn't care about him - it had never been that she didn't care about him. Only that she wasn't supposed to. The line they had to tread between subordinate and superior was fine and they'd navigated it for years.
He rested his cheek against her temple, arms around her torso. "I'm just tired, Carter," he said quietly.
No need to ask why.
He'd always taken a lot on himself, both as the leader of SG-1 and as someone the General trusted to shoot straight with him. While not precisely the second-in-command of the base, the Colonel was the unvoiced authority when General Hammond was unavailable. He was the one that people looked to for leadership - someone to make the tough decisions and who stopped the buck when others let it pass them by.
So many facets, so many angles, so many edges, so many hollows. Sam understood his tiredness - and Daniel's, too, if it came to that. She'd been there for so much of it, seen as the ties between them all stretched with weariness: an unending fight where the tide of Goa'uld destruction could not be stopped - only staunched.
And sometimes the only comfort they had was in each other.
That simply, Sam understood why he'd turned up on her doorstep and not on Daniel's doorstep, or Teal'c's. He had no suitable way to find comfort in their team-mates - their company wasn't enough at times like these. Jack O'Neill needed physical contact with someone he trusted - and there were few women he trusted that intimately.
Not that it didn't scare her. Not that she didn't want to run a mile from the feel of his body against hers or the scent of him in her nostrils. She loved Grant for so many reasons, but she cared about this man far more than she should - he was a weakness in her and, paradoxically, a strength. The desire for his approval drove her hard, challenged her skills, stretched her boundaries. Sam Carter had become more than she'd ever dreamed under this man's command - and part of it was from the trust he invested in her, but part of it was the way she strove for his approval.
Still, Sam was well aware that she couldn't give him the degree of comfort she wanted. He was her superior officer and had been for the last five years. It wasn't possible, it wasn't permitted. And so she'd chosen Grant. The reminder of her lover in the next room stiffened her resolve and the minute changes in the stance of her body signalled to him that she wished to be released.
He let her go.
"Is Daniel okay?" she asked, turning away to go past him to the kitchen where the percolator chugged merrily along, unaware of Sam's tension. The small talk breached the silence that had too many words unsaid and released a little of the tension in him.
"He stayed on the base last night after I managed to get him out of his office and towards his quarters." His shoulders hunched as he leaned against the formica countertop and watched her pull out mugs for herself and for him. "I was going to come over," he said lightly, "But I decided you'd probably want your sleep more." Sam had time for one instant of pure relief that he hadn't come over before he asked the question that made it irrelevant anyway. "Did Adamson call you?"
She couldn't help the blush which spread across her cheeks. She busied herself with finding a clean spoon to hide the betraying change of colour. "Coffee, sir?"
"I guess that's a yes," he said after a moment.
Sam knew he wasn't talking about the coffee. She turned and saw that he knew about last night without needing to be told. The spoon was laid on the bench beside the mugs and she raised her gaze to him. "I'm sorry, sir."
"I know," he said. "And so am I." A faint sad smile flickered across his lips before he looked at her and spoke, more professionally, less personally. "Tell Adamson that he's not expected in this morning. Last night, Hammond arranged to give SG-15 today as downtime to spend with their families or loved ones. We've also got downtime today - Daniel's pretty torn up about Rumlow and...I figured that you and Adamson..." His voice trailed off and he looked down at his hands. "I'll be in at the mountain for most of the day," and there was a sigh in his voice. "We have another interplanetary stray on our hands in Quinn and Hammond wants me and Teal'c to look into the situation."
Was there anything she could say to help him? Anything which would help him through the day?
"If you need me to come in at any stage, call me," she said, friend to friend. "Please."
After a moment, the dark eyes raised to meet her gaze and he nodded. "Thanks, Sam." And there was more in those two words than in a whole plethora of declarations. He tilted his head towards the door. "I'd better be off," he said, a faint, regretful smile touching his face. "Lotta things to do today."
But before he left, he turned and brushed his lips past her cheek. The gesture was unexpected and one which Sam instinctively knew would never be repeated. A farewell to something which had only ever existed *in potentia* and which was now even more unlikely than it had been before she agreed to go out with Adamson.
And once he was gone, the click of the latch into the frame signalled the closing of more than just the door to her apartment.
* * *
They ran through the corridors of the sinking mothership, Daniel's mind filling with a thousand scenarios, each one worse than the last.
Jonas was in the lead, unerringly taking the twists and turns that led back to the escape pod hatch to which the DSRV was attached. Adamson jogged along behind his team-mate, the lean form loping in a manner that was almost canine. Daniel followed, with the sounds of Jacob's shoes against the floor behind him.
Daniel quiely fumed at being ordered back to the DSRV. He'd almost been of a mind to argue - except that time was of the essence and Daniel liked to think he'd learned *something* in six years.
He skidded to a halt at the ladder leading up to the DSRV where Jonas was telling the seaman waiting there that they were going to get the DSRV out as far as possible to avoid the ship's destruction. Jacob was talking into the radio, checking up on Jack, Sam, and Teal'c, who'd gone to get Thor out of the ship's memory. Unfortunately, their escape route had now flooded and there was no other way off that section.
"Jack," Jacob had commandeered the radio again. "We're at the sub, what's your status?"
"We're gonna take a couple of gliders."
Daniel saw the momentary panic in Jacob's eyes, and felt his heart sink. "Jack, a glider wasn't designed to operate underwater..."
"It's our only shot."
"Alright, alright..." Jacob was thinking, rubbing his head. "You'll have to activate the compartment's forcefield to stop the flooding - those systems went off-line after the crash."
Better and better. Daniel wanted to thump something. If Jonas had been standing any closer, he would have taken his anger out on the hapless alien.
"I know," Sam's voice came confidently through the radio. "I'm trying to reroute the power from here..."
Adamson took one step closer. "What is it?"
Jacob gave him a hard look as if only just noticing the Colonel. "Glider bays have forcefields that allow ships to go in and out without having to depressurise the compartment. If Sam can't get it online, she won't be able to open the doors without flooding the hangar."
"Jacob, you are to get that sub to a minimum safe distance - do you copy?" Jack had a grim note to his voice that Daniel recognised. It meant that Jack was doing what he could and expected you to follow his orders.
"Understood." Jacob indicated the ladder to the DSRV.
"Wait," Jonas said suddenly. "There's an auxilary control panel on this deck - I can reroute the power from there?"
"How do you know?" Daniel sneered. He felt petty, even as he said the words, but he squashed any reservations he had. This wasn't some exotic game or some exciting adventure - this involved the lives of his friends - his team! He'd already lost one friend in an incident involving Jonas, he wasn't about to lose more.
"I've gone over the schematics of Goa'uld motherships a dozen times," Jonas said, simply and confidently. "I know."
"Okay, so where is it?" Daniel was prepared to endure the man if he could get Jack, Sam, and Teal'c out of their predicament. He had every intention of going with Jonas to make sure the job was done right.
Jonas had other ideas. "Don't wait for me," he told Daniel, slapping him familiarly on the shoulder.
And then he was gone.
Daniel fumed, but Jacob stopped him from going after the Kelownan. "If he gets it done, then he gets it done," said the Tok'ra with pithy practicality. "You can grumble at him later."
"He'd better be right about the auxilary control panel," Daniel muttered on his way into the cramped confines of the DSRV.
"Jonas has a surprisingly good memory," Adamson offered as he belted himself into one of the passenger spaces on the craft. "He'll do it."
Evidently, in spite of the initial reluctance to take Jonas on as a team-member, Colonel Adamson was warming to him. The idea of Jonas being accepted among his new team rankled in Daniel - nobody should ever take Tim's place.
The hatch was dogged behind them and the rescue vehicle detached from the sunken mothership with a clang.
No response from Jack and the others. Daniel fingered his radio, then caught Adamson doing the same. The older man looked abashed at being caught out. "The waiting's always the hardest."
Daniel rested his head against the curved side of the boat and shut his eyes.
They were putting a lot of trust in Jonas Quinn and he didn't like it one bit.
After three months of trying new team-members, Grant Adamson had been faced with the choice between a Russian and Jonas Quinn. He decided on Jonas. According to Sam, at least he knew the man's loyalties wouldn't be to any Earth power. Adamson was like Jack - he had a 'history' with the Russians and was less than pleased at the thought of having to work with them.
And Jonas hadn't been sitting on his butt twiddling his thumbs all that time. He'd been reading books and reports, watching TV (he had a fondness for the weather channel), and learning everything he could about Earth, the SGC, and the fight against the Goa'uld. Daniel had scoffed that Jonas was brown-nosing it. Jack had pointed out that the man didn't have much else to occupy his time.
It was a bit surprising how Jack had involuntarily become one of Jonas' defendants. Daniel felt more than a little miffed that his friend was being so damn *reasonable* about this. In fact, it seemed that the rest of his team didn't have half as much of a problem with Jonas as he did.
Teal'c had developed a fairly good relationship with Jonas over the last few months. Jack kidded them about an 'alien conspiracy' and Teal'c had regarded Jack with a steady expression under which Jack had rolled his eyes and eaten his jello.
Sam was polite rather than friendly - she'd worked with his input during the situation with Anubis and his device to explode the Earth Stargate - but then her path only crossed Jonas' when they exchanged scientific opinions.
"Sir, I think the ship is...yes, it's going up...hold on, we're out of range, but we're still going to get the shockwave..."
A few seconds later the tsunami hit, tossing them about in the tiny rescue vehicle with nauseating rhythm.
Daniel thought that if he hadn't been strapped into his seat, he'd have felt like a piece of clothing in the tumbledryer, randomly thrown about by the movement of the cycler.
As it was, they had a rocky couple of seconds before the waves settled and the DSRV sailed on.
His stomach felt awful, and wasn't made any better by the fact that they still hadn't heard from the others.
*Dammit, I shouldn't have let Jonas go off and...*
"Everyone all right?" At that moment, Daniel would have happily kissed anyone in his immediate range. Luckily for both Jacob and Adamson, they were over on the not-very-far side of the DSRV.
Sam's voice came over the radio a moment later, "Yes, sir. We're fine."
The relief on Jacob's face was overwhelming as he thumbed the radio, "This is Jacob. We're a little seasick down here, but we're in one piece too."
"Glad to hear it." Jack sounded jaunty: once again, SG-1 had beaten the odds.
With a little help from Jonas.
Adamson looked both relieved and apprehensive as he spoke into the radio. "What about Jonas?"
"Yeah, we got your boy right here, Adamson," Jack drawled. "And he's smiling again."
There was a mixture of exasperation and pride on the Colonel's face as he spoke into the radio. "His first time in glider, huh?"
"Oh, yeah..." In the distant background there was the sound of glider thrusters firing and a squawk of protest that must have come from Jonas. "Mind if I do a bit of hazing, Adamson?"
"I'm not on your team, Colonel!" The protest from Jonas was distant and slightly breathless in the background.
"Too bad," Jack replied lazily. "You're in my glider." Another squawk came - probably as Jack did some manuoevre that left Jonas' stomach several feet behind the tail of the craft.
Adamson's grin was both good natured and envious. "Go right ahead, sir." He took his hand off the radio. "Y'know, I've never been in a glider."
Daniel considered that. "Me neither. I'm feeling distinctly left out."
Jacob snorted. "When they bring them down, I tell you what. Jack can take you out for a spin, Danny, and I'll take the Colonel out for a ride." He grinned at Adamson, who suddenly looked a little apprehensive. Daniel couldn't help the twitch of his lips as he watched Adamson begin to hedge.
"You might as well call me 'Jacob'," Jacob said dryly, "What with dating my daughter and all..."
Adamson glanced accusingly at Daniel, who shrugged. "It was a twenty-seven hour flight out to the mothership," he commented. "It came up."
"It *came up*?" Adamson demanded.
Daniel put his hands up. "Don't look at me. Jack was the one who let the cat out of the bag."
"And don't look like you expect me to reach for the shotgun," Jacob added.
"Actually, sir, I was thinking more of a ribbon device."
Jacob chuckled. "It's 'Jacob', remember?"
"Old habits." But Adamson looked relieved that Sam's Dad was taking it so well.
The banter continued until they reached the submarine and docked with a loud clang.
The first seaman vanished up the ladder with an agility that showed he'd had a lot of practise. Jacob followed, and Adamson indicated that Daniel should follow. "Archaeologists and civilians first, Doctor."
Most of the bridge crew stared at them with great interest as the Captain of the boat walked up to them. "Colonel Adamson."
"Ah, yes, Captain MacDonald, this is Major General Jacob Carter and Dr. Daniel Jackson."
"General, Doctor." Captain MacDonald looked very dubious regarding Jacob's status as a Major General, and Daniel could see why. Jacob was dressed in his usual Tok'ra gear - one shoulder of which was a blackened smear where a staff-blast had taken him in the shoulder. "We've just received a transmission from your.aircraft." The pause between the pronoun and the noun was telling. "They're heading in for Nellis, they'll rendesvous with you there."
"How long before we reach the nearest base?" Jacob asked.
"Oh, another two months yet," MacDonald said, and grinned as the three men did a double take. "A chopper's coming in to pick you up in two hours and drop off some supplies, so you'll be off here before very long. General, if I could speak with you in my statesroom? Seaman Morton, please show these two gentlemen to the mess hall."
Seaman Morton was an uninquisitive young man, who showed them to the mess hall where they were handed a plate of food each and sat down to eat it quietly.
Daniel rubbed at his eyes - he was tired. His adrenaline had finally run out and he'd be more than glad to curl up somewhere and fall asleep.
*Must be getting old,* he thought dryly to himself.
"You okay?" The question roused him from his thoughts and Daniel realised he'd paused with his fork halfway to his mouth.
"Yeah," he said with a self-deprecating snort. "Just tired."
"The last few days have been stressful," Adamson said. "Waiting for the news to come back about the mothership..."
"Do you mind if I ask a question?" Daniel interrupted the other man.
"Ask. Dunno if I'll answer."
"Is he working out?" No specification was necessary.
Adamson took his time responding. "He's doing his best. It's pretty good."
"It wasn't good enough to save Tim." The words escaped him, reflecting the bitterness and anger he'd held towards the alien since he'd watched his friend die.
The pale eyes fixed themselves on Daniel, giving the impression that Adamson was reading him like an open book. Another forkful of pasta was collected and eaten before Adamson replied in what seemed to be a complete non-sequitur. "My best friend lost the use of his arm in the first action we ever saw. We saw the gunfire and I froze. Couldn't move a damn muscle. He ran out to drag me under cover, took a shot in the shoulder. The bullet fractured his shoulder, one of the shards hit a major nerve. He was medically discharged a week later."
Once again Daniel found himself the beneficiary of the Colonel's regard. "Even today, twenty years later, Rob has very limited use of his arm. He learned to compensate for the handicap. We exchange Christmas cards. And every time I see his card in the mail with the stiffly-scrawled address on it, I find myself wincing. Because if I'd had any experience in live-fire action, then maybe I wouldn't have frozen. Maybe I wouldn't have stood there like some stupid wet-behind-the-ears idiot and Rob would have had a brilliant career in the Air Force. But I did and so he didn't.
"I live with that on my conscience. Was it my best moment? Definitely not. I'd do anything to take that moment back - that moment of inaction when my body froze like a deer in headlights while my brain screamed useless orders. I learned to act when others needed me to act. That lesson came at a high price - but I learned it. I didn't like it, but I learned it." Another forkful of pasta was collected, masticated, swallowed. "No, his best at the time wasn't good enough to save Tim. But you should be damned glad that he learned from it - his best is now good enough to save Sam and Colonel O'Neill and Teal'c."
And with that, Adamson turned back to his pasta with the air of someone who'd made his point.
Daniel shut up and ate his pasta.
* * *
Dr. Jackson's visit to Jonas' quarters was unexpected.
Jonas was well aware that Dr. Jackson didn't see him in a good light. He could understand that - after Lieutenant Rumlow's death by radiation poisoning, Jonas had learned that there were few people who welcomed his company.
It bothered him a little, but he wasn't a man for regrets. If there was anything worth getting out of life then it was ahead of him - and so he would look ahead to what might be and plan as he could for it.
"Uh...Dr. Jackson." Jonas stared at the SGC's pre-eminent archaeologist. "Can I help you?"
Dr. Jackson looked like he was struggling with something, for after a moment, his shoulders sagged a little, then straightened again. "Dr. Quinn..."
"Not 'doctor'," Jonas said hastily. "I was never a doctor. 'Jonas' will do."
"Jonas." The name was said with a firm definition. "I'd...well, I'd like to apologise."
Jonas blinked. Then he managed, "For what?"
"For arguing with you on the mothership. And," a hand rose to stop Jonas mid-protest, "For being a bastard these last four months."
Jonas didn't have anything to say. The apology had left him flabbergasted. Dr. Jackson was *apologising* to *him*?
Unaware of the Kelownan's amazement - tinged with just a little bit of horror - Dr. Jackson continued. "I don't have any excuses. And I really really wish I did." He stared at his hands. "I...I've been blaming you for Tim's death."
"I am responsible..." Jonas began, the ever-present ache of guilt blossoming into a flower of anger at himself for not having the courage to stand up when a good man had died.
"No, you're not. You were present, but you're not responsible." Dr. Jackson looked like he was finding it a little strange to be arguing the case from the other side. He wasn't the only one. "You didn't know what the naquadriah would do - Tim did. You've never had to act when nerves froze you - Tim had. I might be angry that he's dead - and angry that your government lied about it - but...I like to think I'm a bigger man than to take it out on you." He grimaced. "Unfortunately, the evidence appears to say otherwise." He scrubbed at his hair. "I can be a real dickhead when I put my mind to it."
Jonas had no idea what a 'dickhead' was, but he could guess what the other man meant by the inflection. "You felt strongly about your friend's death, Dr. Jackson. That says a lot about your loyalty to those close to you." After Lieutenant Rumlow's death, Jonas had known he could expect no favours from these people. He would have to earn his way and it would be hard. Within a day of being granted sanctuary here, it had become very clear how close-knit the people of the SGC were.
"It says a lot about how pig-headed I can get," Dr. Jackson admitted. "Jack would probably tell you that in a trice. Look, I'm sorry for being as asshole these last few months and...and it would be...nice...to work with you."
He couldn't use the other man's first name. Not yet. "Dr. Jackson, if I could go back and change what happened that day, do what your friend did and take the consequences, I would. Please believe that." Jonas had nothing else to offer the man. What had been done was done and there was no changing it. You could only learn from it and move on.
Everything he'd done from the moment he'd come to the SGC to bring them the precious naquadriah had been geared towards the purpose of helping them out. He was a refugee from his world in a way and while he hadn't expected to stay, he was glad of the chance to make a difference. Even if it meant working among people who might never see anything of value in him. He would stay and he would help continue the work Lieutenant Rumlow had been doing in the years before his death.
And somehow, things had worked out.
He had spent time around Teal'c, trying to comprehend the miniscule, yet significant differences between the SGC and Kelowna and counting on Teal'c's understanding of Earth and her people to assist him in that comprehension.
Lieutenant Colonel Adamson had accepted him onto the team grudgingly at first, but after a few missions - and especially after the incident with Anubis' technology to blow up the Stargate - Jonas found himself being personally accepted by his team.
Even Colonel O'Neill was more helpful than Jonas would have expected from someone who was touted as Dr. Jackson's best friend. It was probably just auspicious circumstances, but Jonas would take all the advantages he could get.
And now, Dr. Jackson had come to *him* asking forgiveness for not being welcoming to Jonas?
"Dr. Jackson, I can't accept your apology because you have nothing to apologise for."
"I have nothing to apologise for? How about a lack of common politeness?" Dr. Jackson asked dryly.
"I can hardly say that I'd be particularly polite to someone responsible for the death of a close friend. And if I can't expect that of myself, why should I expect that of you?"
"Because *I* expect it of me!"
The words came out with the bite of frustration, freezing both the conversation and the two men as they stared at each other.
Jonas took a deep breath and tentatively touched the archaeologist's elbow. "Maybe you expect too much of yourself?"
"That's what Sam says, too." Dr. Jackson sighed. "Look, I just wanted to say...I'm sorry. And I've done that. So...um...I'm going to go..."
"Actually, I was...um...wondering if you could help..." Jonas indicated the open files on the desk. "Colonel Adamson said I should read up a bit more on some of SG-1's history. And I read through most of the mission reports - but it's always good to have someone who was there so you can...ask questions..."
Dr. Jackson looked like he was in two minds about it and Jonas was suddenly of a mind to tell him not to bother. It probably wasn't such a good thing to push his luck.
"Okay." Dr. Jackson indicated the file. "Look, I'm hungry. Bring the file with you and we'll go up to the commissary and have a bite to eat. If you're hungry, that is..."
Jonas grinned in spite of himself. Dr. Jackson obviously hadn't paid much attention to anything Colonel Adamson or Teal'c had said about him. He loved Earth food. "Commissary and food sounds good, Doctor."
He still wasn't comfortable calling the archaeologist by his first name. Dr. Jackson might have forgiven him, but Jonas really had to forgive himself. So he hedged. "I'll try to remember that."
* * *
She seemed abstracted throughout the evening. There, but not quite there.
Grant shrugged off his frustration. Sometimes when she was with him, she was all there. Her mind was fully on whatever they were doing at the time - whether watching a game or making love. And sometimes he felt like he only had the shadow of her while her soul was off somewhere else.
He savoured the moments when she was all there. Then he had her laughter and her wit, her humour and her intelligence, and the smile on her face and in her eyes. She amazed him anew every day and although he'd known her for two years, his delight in her company never seemed to end.
*I guess, to put it in really simple terms... I'm in love.*
Intellectually, Grant knew that most of the men who worked on the base were 'in love' with Sam Carter. Not in a rip-her-clothes-off-and-screw-her-blind way, but a worship-and-adore way. She earned your respect and admiration just by being herself. Even her worst detractors could see her good points - and hated that she'd been blessed with so much. That was why they spent so much time sneering at her, after all.
And for some reason he'd never quite understood, she was actually dating him.
Grant didn't kid himself. He wasn't anything special. Enough initiative to be a leader, enough obedience to follow the rules, a few decorations but not half as good as...
He stopped himself in the middle of that train of thought.
Sam was absently chasing her grilled fish around the plate. The conversation had lapsed after she failed to keep up her end of it. Grant wasn't going to make small talk if she wasn't going to respond.
But he felt a little cheated.
It was her birthday. Her thirty-fourth birthday. A fairly significant age marker although not one of any major concern. He'd arranged for a night out - pending no alien attacks or intergalactic crises occuring at the SGC - and he'd gotten her out of the house. That was an effort, in and of itself. If she wasn't out on a mission, he was. If neither of them were out on a mission, she was working. If she wasn't working then he couldn't coax her out of the house.
Sometimes he didn't know why he bothered.
Then a day would come along when she'd suggest they go out, her attention would be entirely his, she'd be the one to kiss and he'd be the one to turn the cheek, and boy, when they got home...
Grant knew perfectly well why he bothered.
"I don't think the fish is going to go anywhere," he noted dryly.
She glanced up, smiled briefly, and put the fork down. "Sorry," she apologised, tucking her napkin under the edge of the plate. "I'm still trying to work through the implications of the...uh..." Her eyes flickered to the diners at the next table, "...discovery down in the Antarctic..."
"Sam, it's your *birthday*," he said, trying to be patient with her.
"Grant, I don't have anything else to talk about," she explained, just as patiently. "My work is what I do, it's taken up so much of my life in the last few years..."
It was a perfect opening.
He let it slip by.
"That's why I keep trying to get you out of the house when we're both on downtime," he reminded her. "And all you want to do is sit at home..."
"I'm a homebody, Grant. Not a socialite."
"I know," he reached for her hand around the table. "And I love you that way. But sometimes...it would be nice to go out a bit more often. Make friends outside of work..."
She smiled faintly and sadly. "A lot of times they don't understand what we do, Grant."
"Maybe they don't have to. Life doesn't have to revolve around our work, Sam."
But she felt it did. He knew that. He was trying to expand her horizons - to get her involved in other activities. Rock-climbing and trail-walking in Pikes Peak. Picnics in Garden of the Gods and restaurants up in Denver.
Sometimes, he just felt like he wasn't getting anywhere.
There was a line drawn in her heart and nobody stepped across it. Not Grant Adamson - nor any other man, from what he could tell. And he'd started watching her interaction with Jack O'Neill very carefully.
It wasn't that he didn't trust Sam, just that...he was aware that the Colonel stood on a pedestal in Sam's mind. She didn't quite worship the guy, but it was pretty obvious to everyone concerned that it came damned close.
And the Colonel reciprocated - that was obvious. Between the 'Carter can do anything' mindset of the Colonel and the 'I'll do anything the Colonel asks of me' mindset of Sam, Grant felt like he was squashed in a mutual admiration society with no way to break free.
He respected Colonel O'Neill - everyone did. Like him or hate him, you had to admire someone who could piss off the politicians on one hand and make intergalactic allies on the other. But it was seven kinds of hell to live up to him, which was the main reason none of the single guys on the base had ever invited Sam out on a date, in spite of all of them thinking Sam was 'hot property'.
Colonel O'Neill was tough competition as it was - and the fact that a different set of rules applied to him as Sam's commanding officer meant that there were few guys whose egos could take the constant second-ranking.
Even Grant sometimes felt like he got the seconds of Sam. And he *knew* Sam loved him.
"I don't like small talk," she said, simply. "I've never been good at it."
"You seem to do fine at those official functions we have."
"That's different." She didn't elaborate on *how* it was different.
He sighed. "Did you want dessert?"
"I want to go home."
A slow, wicked smile crossed her face. The kind that heated his blood with sensual promise. "Sounds good to me."
It suddenly sounded good to him, too. Except for one slight problem.
It was an easy matter to catch the eye of the maitre'd. A simple thing to pay the bill. No problem to wait for her until she finished in the ladies' room.
He pondered his situation. He'd known her for several years now - just friends, nothing more. It wasn't until last Christmas that he considered actually asking her out - and she could have knocked him over with a feather when she accepted. And then he'd gone to her after Tim's death - just wanting to be comforted and unprepared for what sprang out of that night.
But he never looked back. She was beautiful and amazing, and he loved her more than anything or anyone else on this planet - or any other planet in the galaxy.
He wished she loved him half as much. Or rather, he wished she was more demonstrative. Intellectually, he *knew* she loved him as much - she just didn't show it. The absent-minded affection she gave him in public was almost exactly the same kind of thing that she showed to her team-mates. As far as Grant could see, the only difference was that when he flung an arm around her shoulders in public, she would look at him and smile instead of frown.
And then there was Colonel O'Neill.
Sam Carter loved Grant Adamson. There was no doubt about that. Still, what she held for the Colonel was...different.
So Grant had considered things very carefully. And he'd come to a decision. It wasn't an easy one, and he wasn't sure that he was comfortable with what could ensue. But he was idealist enough to believe it could work and stubborn enough to make it work.
But only if she was willing.
"Are we going?"
She looked stunning, even in simple black slacks and a white blouse. Effortlessly elegant, although she didn't seem to think so. Sometimes it amazed him that she didn't think all that much of herself.
"Yeah, we're going."
He helped her into her leather jacket and she helped him into his wool coat. Then she slipped her long cool fingers into his and they went out into the chill spring night.
At the SUV, he stopped, holding her hand when she would have disengaged it to walk around to the passenger side of the vehicle. She turned to look at him - her face faintly illuminated by the lights of the parking lot. "Sam..." Damn, but he felt like a fool. And he wasn't sure if it was because of *what* he was about to ask, or because he wasn't sure if he *should* ask her, or even if it was just because he'd never done this before and he had no idea of how to do it. "I...you know I love you," he said at last.
Sam smiled faintly, "I've had my suspicions from time to time..."
Grant chuckled, and a little of the tension eased in him. "Well, I've been wondering for a while now...whether you'd let me love you for the rest of your life." In spite of her gentle encouragement, the words still came out rushed. If he played them over in his head, they sounded silly.
And she'd hesitated.
"If you don't...I mean, you might think it's too soon - we've only been going out for five months..." He was babbling and he knew it, so he bit down on his words and waited for her to respond.
"Grant, it's nothing like that."
"So what is it?"
She grimaced a little. "I...I like how we are. It's...comfortable."
"I like how we are, too, Sam. If I didn't I wouldn't have asked." He shrugged, hiding his hurt. "But I thought that maybe..." Another shrug. "Never mind. Let's go home."
He ignored her plea and strode around to get into the driver's seat of the vehicle. After a moment, she climbed into the passenger side and sighed. "The work we do is dangerous, Grant."
He twisted the key in the ignition with a little more force than was required. "Tell me about it."
"I don't want to leave someone behind if something happens to me while I'm on a mission."
"Sam, if something happened to you on a mission, you'd be leaving someone behind anyway," Grant said shortly. Under his direction, the SUV moved smoothly out of the parking space and down the length of the parking lot. "Unless you don't think I'd care if you died or vanished on a mission?" A glance in her direction showed her biting her lip. "See? And what about your Dad - or even Mark and Diana and the kids? You don't think they'd care if you died?"
If there was one thing that Sam Carter was almost constantly guilty of, it was underestimating her importance to the people around her. Grant grimaced as he drove down the street towards her section of town. "Sam. We've never discussed this. Not really. We kind of, well, fell into it after Rumlow died and things have been...comfortable." She was right about that. Comfortable and exciting by turns. "I...I like that. I'd like things to keep being comfortable..."
"We don't even know if things *will* stay comfortable, Grant! Too much happens on our missions..."
"Hey, *you* were the one who brought up comfortable, Sam! First you're saying we're comfortable, *then* you're saying that we shouldn't get comfortable..." He knew he sounded irritable - he was angered by her hedging. "If you're not ready or you don't think of me like that then fine, just say so. But I...I hoped..." He sighed, his irritation draining from him. Hardly the best way to spend with your girlfriend on her birthday! "Look, just...forget it, Sam."
Silence reigned in the confines of the car. Grant cursed himself for being and idiot and a fool. What a way to screw up an otherwise perfectly good night!
And there was still more to come...
He glanced over at her, trying to gauge her reaction, and decided to risk it. One hand groped for hers, found it, tangled his fingers with hers. "I'm sorry. I had all this planned out and then...I go and royally screw it up."
For a moment, he thought she was going to freeze him out the way she did when she was mad. Then she squeezed his hand lightly, accepting the apology. "Look at it this way," she offered, just as lightly. "It'll go down as a memorable birthday. Turn thirty-four, go out to dinner, get engaged..."
Grant nearly forgot how to drive as her last words penetrated his recrimination-fogged brain. "I... Sam... You... You accept?"
"It's not that momentous," she said, still lightly but laughingly.
He stopped the SUV dead in the middle of the suburban street and looked over at her. "It is to me, Sam."
Her mouth quirked gently and he was struck by the urge to kiss her.
So he did.
In a stopped SUV in the middle of an empty street, Grant kissed his brand-new fiancee Sam Carter. Lingeringly.
And when they came up for air again, there was a smile on her face as she suggested, "Are we going home anytime soon?" Her voice carried a gentle innuendo that bypassed rational thought and went straight to Grant's libido.
Which would have been fine...except for one small problem.
He managed a grin that wasn't a grimace. "Yeah," he told her as he started the car up again. "We're going home."
And as he navigated the roads between their position and her house, he hoped that it was only the dim light of the street lamps which had contributed to the shadows in her eyes as she accepted his proposal.
Things were never easy.
Not on SG-1 and not in life.
As she got out of the SUV beside her house, Sam wondered if she was doing the right thing in agreeing to marry Grant.
The last time she'd agreed to marry a man had turned out to be a big mistake, after all.
But Grant Adamson was a long way from Jonas Hanson.
She hadn't thought of Jonas - the other Jonas - in years, now. Time and the sheer busyness of the last six years had driven almost all thought of him from her mind.
And there was still Colonel O'Neill to think about.
A part of her chided her for thinking about him when she was going out with Grant. Hell, she was sleeping with Grant! The last time they'd made love - well, she blushed just thinking about it!
And yet, in spite of what she felt for Grant - love and tenderness and a kind of bemused wonder that he wanted what they had to go on forever - there were still ties of loyalty and affection that bound her to the Colonel and she couldn't deny them.
She felt like a bit of a hussy, accepting Grant's proposal when she knew she didn't feel about him as strongly as he seemed to feel about her. It wasn't pity for him; pity had no place in their relationship. It wasn't gratitude, either; Sam wasn't the kind to be 'grateful' for a man's affection.
There was no doubt in her mind that she loved Grant. He had an open heart and a thoughtful mind. He was quiet but definite, stubborn over some things and easy-going over others. She respected him, admired him, laughed at his foibles, and winced at his mistakes. And they were 'comfortable' together.
In truth, Sam Carter was stuck between two men - the one she held in her arms and the one whose six she guarded. And there was no easy way to choose one over the other.
*There is no such thing as an undivided heart. The most we can hope is that we have the courage to choose a path and to walk it to the end*. That pearl of wisdom had come from an old Academy friend of Sam's many years ago in some big philosophical discussion at 0400 after a night spent drinking the better part of a cask of beer.
*...to choose a path...* Sam glanced over at Grant. He'd offered her a path and she'd chosen it. For better or for worse as the vows said.
It wasn't a bad path when all was said and done. Just not one she'd envisaged herself taking six months ago.
But times changed and so did situations and people.
*...and to walk it to the end.*
When she announced her career decision, her father had sat her down and gone through all the cons about being in the Air Force. He'd seen the deal women got in the armed forces, he knew the game. And he'd wanted to make sure his daughter knew exactly what she was getting into when she decided to join the Air Force Academy.
At age eighteen, she hadn't cared. She'd told her Dad what she was going to do and that was that.
"*Stubborn,*" he'd muttered. "*I stick with what I say I'll do,*" she snapped back.
Sam Carter wasn't a quitter.
What she swore to this man, she would keep - as she'd sworn her loyalty to the USAF with all it's strictures and structures and had kept the faith.
"Are we going in, then?" He asked lightly as she stared at him in the half-dark.
Sam smiled at him as she led him up the path to her house and fumbled with her keys on the dark porch.
As she unlocked the door, she glanced up at Grant and was surprised by his wistful expression. "Grant?"
He quirked a smile at her, but merely said, "Inside, Sam."
Sam led the way down the hall and into her loungeroom.
Was that a shadow by the window...?
The lights came on with startling abruptness and a multitude of voices yelled, "*SURPRISE!*"
She blinked at the brightness of the lights and stared at the dozen or so people crowded into her kitchen and living room space. They were all from the SGC and most were good friends of hers. The exceptions were Grant's team-members, clustered a little shyly in one corner of the room.
There was Janet and Cassie coming forward to greet her, both of them grinning like loons. Daniel and General Hammond waved from the couches, and on either side of the window stood the Colonel and Teal'c, slight smiles staining their faces. Other people - officers and enlisted personnel from work - got up from their crouched positions around the room and laughed at her poleaxed expression.
"Oh my God." She turned on her heel and glared at Grant. "You *knew* about this!" It was the only thing she could say, and maybe the sight of Grant would take away the memory of the Colonel's lopsided smile - strangely regretful in the instant of revelation.
"Well, yes," he said, evidently a little amused by her vehemence as his hand touched the small of her back lightly. "Someone had to keep you out of the house while they got it ready!"
The logic was inescapable but she eyed him narrowly before turning to smile at Cassie who was already lining up for a hug.
At eighteen, Cassie wavered between stand-offish maturity and adolescent enthusiasm depending on who was present, how well they knew her, and what kind of image she wanted to project to them.
Right now, it seemed that 'adolescent enthusiasm' was the behaviour of the day.
Sam hugged the young woman, aware that the child she'd rescued from Hanka had become a woman - and one which was causing her mother all kinds of headaches from the local boys. "Thanks, Cassie."
"Happy Birthday, Sam," Cassie laughed. "Oh, you should have seen your face..."
"I'm glad I didn't," Sam responded dryly.
"Cassie organised the whole thing," Daniel offered from behind Janet. "Whipped us into place and got everything sorted out at the SGC through Jack, Janet, and myself..."
"Quite the little organiser," the Colonel said lightly, sauntering up to the group. He gave Cassie a half-smile of approval which the teenager entirely missed since she was facing Sam. "Happy Birthday, Carter." And he gave her the same half-smile - a slight twist of the mouth with one corner upturned.
She had barely enough time to smile back at him before Daniel swooped in for a hug, shamelessly edging Janet out of the way. "Happy Birthday, Sam!" He murmured beside her ear. "OW!" Sam jerked away from the startled yell, and saw Janet's triumphant smirk as she prodded his back. "Ja-net!"
"Dr. Jackson, stop hogging the birthday girl!" Janet told him in a voice that was simultaneously severe and laughing.
"Hey, she's *my* teammate, I can hog her if I want to..." Daniel let go and grinned at Sam, kissing her on the cheek. "Happy Birthday."
Sam was passed around from person to person, hugged, kissed and congratulated. A glass of champagne ended up in her hand and she was offered snacks. She refused the snacks, still full from dinner and talked and smiled and laughed at their sallies.
The party certainly came as a surprise. A pleasant one, but a surprise nevertheless. In spite of their initial enthusiasm, her friends gauged her mood and set their conversation and tone accordingly which was a relief.
But not as much of a relief as it was to escape on the pretext of having to go to the bathroom. Once in there, she sat down on the edge of the bath and sighed quietly to herself. She didn't particularly want to go back out into the noise and good cheer - not because she didn't like the people out there, but because...well, she just wasn't in the mood.
Staring down at her hands, she tried to envision a diamond on her finger. Grant's rings on her finger, her ring on his. Husband and wife.
It wasn't that she couldn't see it - she could.
It was that parts of her were still clinging to someone she couldn't have.
It was stupid, really.
Sam sighed and leaned her head against the vanity.
It would have been better if she'd had the time to settle herself into the idea of marrying Grant before she had to face people around her. Before she had to face *him*. Even one night would have done wonders for her certainty.
Maybe it was just that she felt...overwhelmed by everything.
It had been a while since she'd been in a personal, intimate relationship; not since she'd broken up with her old fiancé. For the last few years, her life had been wrapped around the Stargate project. The work she did, her friends, even her family - were all bound up in the SGC and the people there. The SGC wasn't just a job to Sam Carter - it was a lifestyle.
It had taken over her life as gently and unstoppably as ivy grew over an old tree.
And now she was trying to make space for a personal life...
Someone knocked on the door, interrupting her train of thought.
"I'm coming out in a moment," she called and hauled herself up, preparing to do battle with the guests at her party again.
She wasn't prepared to meet the Colonel's surprised gaze on the other side of the bathroom door.
And neither was he, it seemed.
His eyes met hers, slid away, came back. "Having a good time, Carter?"
The wince was unintended and from the arch of his brows she knew he'd seen it. "Yes, sir."
"I hope the party idea was okay..."
He looked very serious about her discomfort with the party. Cassie had mentioned he'd had a hand in sorting it out - maybe he was worried that she really disliked the party.
Truthfully, she probably would have preferred it more low-key - a barbecue with her friends out in the backyard in the afternoon. Not so much focus on her and a great deal more easy-going. But the party idea *had* been okay. It was just...unexpected. "It was fine, sir," she answered, the title rolling off her lips with practised ease. "A little surprising, but okay."
"Cassie really wanted to make it a surprise," The Colonel explained dryly. He shrugged a little, smiling. "I think she's after a surprise birthday party herself."
"You should tell Janet. Maybe she could organise something for Cass."
"Maybe. Maybe *you* should return the favour and organise it."
"You know me and organising social nights, sir."
The smile tugged at his lips. "Yes, I do, Carter."
"So you know it wouldn't be a favour."
"Perhaps." He stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned back against the wall. "I'm sure you could get your act together enough to throw her a really good party, though."
She half-laughed. "Maybe. But after this..." Her wave of the hand indicated the party downstairs.
The Colonel grinned. "You're being a party-pooper, Carter." His eyes looked piercingly through her and the grin faded a little. "Not the kind of birthday you wanted?"
"Well, I got you a birthday present," he said. Sam's surprise - and maybe a bit of apprehension - must have shown on her face, because he added, "Oh, nothing much. Just...a small present."
"You didn't have to."
"Maybe not," he said simply. "But you're not going to get it tonight. I left it at home. I'll drop it by your office tomorrow." He indicated the open bathroom behind her. "And if you'll now excuse me..."
Sam stepped out of his way and let him go into the bathroom, then sighed deeply and headed back out to the party.
Her relationship with the Colonel had been both easier and harder since she'd started dating Grant.
It was easier in the sense that because she was in a fairly serious relationship with another man, limits were now defined in people's minds. It was no longer so dangerous to look, smile, touch or be around him. They didn't have to examine every second action in the fear of someone misinterpr eting it. Obviously they weren't draping themselves all over each other, but it made things less tense between them.
It was harder in the fact that they had to deal with the death of hope, because there had been hope that there might be something worth waiting for - something worth fighting for. Sam knew that there hadn't really been anyone else in the Colonel's life for the last couple of years, and while a part of her ego liked the idea that he'd been 'saving himself' for her, another part of her now wished he'd found someone else to... care... about.
Would it have hurt? Yes. Sam wasn't a robot. She'd been accused of being an 'ice maiden' by various people over the years, that was nothing new. But in spite of any hurting, Sam would rather have seen him happy than have to watch him struggle on alone.
And now it was only made worse by her relationship with Grant.
Her *long-term* relationship with Grant.
Sam tried to imagine how she'd feel if she found herself with the situation turned around - the Colonel dating one of the women at work - Peta Meridian for example. How would she feel if they announced their engagement?
She glanced back at the still-closed bathroom door and sighed as she made her way back down the hall. There was no help for it - she couldn't control how he felt, only he could do that. And Colonel O'Neill had seemed okay about it all.
And, yes, Sam was selfishly relieved that he hadn't made a fuss. It had been the one thing she really feared - more than Daniel's, *You're dating Adamson?* or Teal'c's lifted eyebrow outside the locker room. Or even her father's expression on the teltac as Colonel O'Neill said, *I'll bet that Grant Adamson will be climbing the walls worrying about Carter,* and her dad had asked, *Why would Adamson be worrying about...? Sam?*
She'd just reached the end of the corridor when Grant turned the corner. They nearly bashed noses and he caught her arms. "You were gone so long I was wondering if you'd fallen in."
"I met Colonel O'Neill going in," she explained simply.
"Oh." The response was non-committal and telling. Grant was, if not aware of her feelings for Colonel O'Neill, certainly aware that there was *something* about the Colonel. From the things he'd said to her before, Sam figured that he thought she had a bad case of hero-worship.
Only it wasn't the hero Sam admired so much, but the man who did his duty without thought of heroism. An ordinary man called upon to do extraordinary things. And Grant, being male and in competition in ways he couldn't conceive or imagine, felt inferior to the Colonel.
In a way he would be. Sam knew perfectly well she had her CO up on a pedestal in her mind and her heart, but he was also there beside her as friend and team-mate. She neither could nor wanted to cut him out of her life - even for Grant. He would have to learn the hard way that she and Colonel O'Neill were professionals first, and that personal came later for them - if it ever came at all.
"What's happening out there?" She changed the topic, not wanting to bring up his doubts and fears at this moment. There would be time enough for that later - and she hoped that she'd judged Grant's character right.
Colonel O'Neill would always occupy a place in Sam's memory, even if he ceased to occupy a place in her life - and she would never give up the years she'd had of knowing and serving with him.
"Well, they're wondering where you are for one," he said, leaning his head against hers. "And I think that Daniel is trying to explain the significance of taco chips to Jonas."
"There's a significance to taco chips?"
"There is after Daniel's had two beers."
Sam laughed, although the smile faded a little as she heard the Colonel come down the hall behind her.
"Adamson." If the Colonel had an opinion about Grant these days, he kept it to himself and didn't share it with her. But the things he'd said about Grant as the leader of SG-15 before then had almost always been approving. "How's things?"
"Good, sir. You?" Was there an edge in Grant's voice?
"Oh, getting along." The Colonel shrugged and one corner of his mouth quirked. "Feeling old. The knees still ache a bit." He glanced at Sam. "I don't think Antarctica did my knee any favours."
"Janet took a look at it?"
"And then some." He shrugged, "There's only so much surgery you can do on an old body."
"I imagine Dr. Fraiser has mentioned going easier on your leg, Colonel?" Grant said dryly.
"Oh yeah. And then some." Colonel O'Neill's humour reasserted itself. "But with these guys running around the galaxy, it's keep up and suffer - or retire." The way he tagged the 'retirement' option on at the end made it clear to Sam that retirement wasn't an option.
Unfortunately, Grant didn't pick up the same signals - either that or he ignored them. "Given that none of us are getting any younger, Colonel, maybe you *should* consider retirement." The subject of retirement - and everything it had once entailed - was tender enough that the Colonel stiffened just a tad before he replied.
"Well, I have considered it before. But...what with one thing and another..." He glanced at Sam and shared a quiet smile with her for all the things they'd done together on SG-1 - and maybe all the things they hadn't done together while on SG-1 - and shrugged. "Never quite got around to it." A slightly wry smile touched his lips, "And someone has to keep the Light Birds in order." And *that* was definitely a light chiding.
"I think we manage to keep ourselves in order quite well, thanks very much," Grant said, mimicking offence.
The Colonel cocked a wry grin. "Maybe." He indicated the party down the hall. "You guys already got tired of this?"
"Grant came looking for me," Sam explained, gently herding Grant around so they were heading back to the living room. It was...well...strange...to be watching the two most important men in her life - not even saving her father's grace - conducting a conversation that had more undertones than she was comfortable with.
A glance over her shoulder at the Colonel caught the pained expression on his face as he watched them walking side by side down the hallway. Sam turned away before she met his eyes, knowing he'd know she'd seen his expression, but not wanting to acknowledge it.
It wasn't easy.
But then, most things weren't easy.
* * *
* * *
It gleamed under the light of the stars, the darkness soft and quiet around him.
Some nights he came out here to look up at the stars, seeking the points of light that were great fiery balls when he stepped down to the surface of a planet and thinking how beautiful they looked from so far away.
Tonight, Jack's interest wasn't in the stars, but in the gift he'd taken out of its box tonight to sit in his hand, small and delicate and fragile - like what was between him and Carter.
The engagement hadn't come as that much of a surprise. From everything he'd seen, Adamson was a smart man. He knew a good thing when he had it.
It had hurt, of course. Not in a 'I'm never going to smile again' way, which was stupid and melodramatic and terribly, terribly cliché, but in a 'close the door and acknowledge that not everything goes your way in life and in love' way.
Yes, Jack O'Neill loved Sam Carter and had for a long time. He'd shown it in his belief in her abilities, in his faith that she could fix the problem, in his command of her and his refusal to step down from that command - because she wasn't quite ready for her own command yet, and he'd be damned before he let her - and Teal'c and Daniel for that matter - into the hands of someone who wouldn't appreciate them to their fullest extent.
Not that Jack was always the most considerate of commanders, but he knew his team and they knew him.
And he knew Sam Carter and she knew him.
She hadn't looked at him as Grant made the announcement. But Daniel had. Typical. Daniel knew what he knew and wasn't afraid to make it known. The man had all the subtlety of a bullet in the brain.
Daniel had come up to him afterwards while everyone else was crowding Sam and Adamson with congratulations.
// "You okay?"
"Sure. Peachy. You?"
"Jack, I know Sam's relationship with Grant..."
"Daniel, you know nothing. Just leave it."
Daniel opened his mouth to say something. Jack raised one hand, finger upraised in warning. "Daniel..."
Considering that Daniel was a one-beer drunk who'd already had two, it was quite surprising to have him shut up and go and talk to Janet instead.
But Jack was relieved. Daniel - and Teal'c and Hammond and Janet for that matter - saw much more than he was comfortable with them seeing. //
And that was why he'd left the party shortly afterwards to come home and sit out on his roof with his present for her in his hands.
He didn't want any more to be seen by his friends - or by others.
// She was leaning against the bench next to Janet, a glass of champagne in her hand. Adamson was talking with Hammond who looked like he was about to leave as well. Janet gave him a look and quietly betook herself elsewhere. And he stuck his hands in his pockets and gave her a quiet smile.
"Thanks." There was a moment when she looked a little lost - like someone who had wandered far enough to be out of sight of familiar things but not far enough to panic. "Are you going, sir?"
"Yeah." He didn't specify the reasons - she didn't need reasons specified. They knew what they were to each other - good friends. Just as they were well aware of what they could have been to each other. And would never be. "Happy Birthday, Carter." //
The thin chain of the necklace he'd gotten her for her birthday gleamed in his palm. It had a single pendant on it - a gold replica of the wooden necklace she'd been given by the woodcarver on Aegeus.
*It is a small thing that women should be admired and that men should have the delight of admiring.* Daniel had told him the woodcarver's words later, out of Carter's hearing. Jack had found it peculiarly appropriate.
A woman like Carter should be admired. And Jack had found delight in admiring her. Body, mind, and soul. Call it grubby and disgusting, call it sordid and perverted, call it doting and dangerous... It was none of these. Jack had enjoyed almost every moment working with Sam Carter these last six years.
There had been times in the last six months when Jack wondered if things would have been different had he gone to her house the night of Rumlow's death. Would he have interrupted her and Adamson - or would he have gone there seeking the kind of comfort Adamson had found in her arms? Maybe he might have been the one engaged to Carter on her birthday...?
He squashed that idea before it could grow into an obsession - or anything even vaguely resembling one. The speculation was pointless. Things were as they were.
Things were pretty much the same on SG-1. They worked much as they always had, with no changes in their behaviour. Jack was still aware that she was a beautiful woman and that he cared about her more than he should. And Carter put up with his demanding nature when they were on a mission and kept special smiles for him when they weren't.
But it hurt.
It hurt in a way that Jack didn't care to study too closely. The kind of way that the note heralding Sara's remarriage had hurt when he'd received it nearly a year ago. It hurt that there was someone else in her life, making her happy. Someone who wasn't Jack.
The same way it hurt to think of Adamson making Carter smile, giving her what Jack could not. Tenderness and passion, every day and every night.
Sara was gone and remarried - happily from all accounts. And someday in the not-too-far future Carter would be married too, and Jack would have to deal with his solitude again.
At least he would still be allowed to love her in his own way. To serve beside her and protect her - to take care of her when they were off-world and Adamson couldn't. He would have that much of her as long as they were in SG-1 together, and nothing - *nothing* - would ever make him willingly give that up.
Carter's happiness was in Adamson's hands now.
And Jack would have to forget that he'd ever hoped for more.
*Forgive and forget,* went the old saying.
Was that it? Was that what he'd have to do to face Carter and the man she'd chosen to love and honour and cherish? Forgive and forget?
Jack shivered, staring up at the stars in the heavens, seeing the stars of the planets he'd been to, and the stars of planets he'd never seen and never would.
Forgetting was out of the question.
Forget what it was like to have a gauntlet laid down, to match wits against a 2IC who would follow your cues but had no compunction in telling you her thoughts? Forget what it was like to know that there was a fighter at your back who trusted your lead and yet could be trusted to take her own? Forget how it felt to make a joke and see her laugh in helpless amusement at his foolishness? Forget the voice speaking about things he didn't understand and never would, and the gleam of delight in her eyes as something came together?
Jack's hands closed into fists as if he could fight against unkind fate and the roll of the dice which dictated that he would be close enough to care but not far enough away to have.
Forgive and forget.
Forgive and forget Sam Carter?
Jack would never forget.
But there was nothing to forgive.
There never had been.
And maybe that hurt most of all.
* * * END of "Honour Bound: Waving and Drowning" * * *
Will the other episodes come up later on in the piece? Maybe. There'll certainly be a few 'guest stars' from Season Six.
And send feedback. Or you won't get the next part of the story.