Category: Thoughts, Angst, S/J UST.

Summary: How do they make it work? Nothing earth-shattering. Just some thoughts.

Rating: G

Season/spoiler: season 8

Related episodes: Paradise Lost, Forsaken, etc

Status: complete

Archive: Heliopolis, , and whoever who wants it.

Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. I have written this story for entertainment purposes only and no money whatsoever has exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended.

Comments: I am posting this, and my other fanfics, to say thanks for all who have taken their time and effort to write SG-1 fanfics… and to post them for others to enjoy. Thank you to all of you.

What Doesn't Kill You

They were all tired. It had been a long day, both mentally and physically. O'Neill looked over his people as they picked themselves up and took stock of themselves and the others around them.

Today was a training day. O'Neill and the rest of SG-1 were conducting field scenarios for other SG teams. The training leadership role was rotated through the more experienced SG teams.

General O'Neill quickly scanned the members of SG-8 and SG-9. Captain Connors, Captain Tugrall, Lieutenant Haley, Lieutenant Peters, Major Wong, Captain Hernandez, Captain Swahija and Colonel Chavez. And behind them was his own team, SG-1. To the far left, Teal'c stood quietly with Daniel Jackson by his side. And over to O'Neill's right, Lt. Colonel Sam Carter waited calmly for his next orders.

O'Neill grinned at the dusty assemblage before him, "The next installment is awaiting your pleasure right over here," and he gestured grandly at one of the non-descript buildings over to the side of the training grounds. The members of SG-8 and SG-9 looked at him warily as they walked over towards the building. Daniel rolled his eyes and managed to look slightly exasperated. Teal'c, as usual, displayed no reaction… which somehow managed to convey a state of being above the mere mortal Tauri.

O'Neill looked over to catch Carter's reaction and saw her knowingly watching him with a faint smile of her own and then she looked away and fell in behind the group making its way over to the next exercise. He allowed himself to watch her for a few seconds and then steeled himself for what was coming next.

As the group stepped into the mockup, O'Neill watched their reactions. The members of SG-8 and SG-9 were curious and began cursory assessments. Captain Tugrall, SG-8's linguist was eagerly scanning the symbols on the walls and other objects in the room. Lieutenants Haley and Peters were exploring the archway and any apparent mechanisms. Colonel Chavez and Captain Swajiha were quickly attempting possible threat assessments.

O'Neill smiled a bit at Daniel's obvious curiosity. The archeologist did not recognize this scenario… it wasn't based on a previous mission that Jackson had been on, nor was it mentioned in any of the preparatory meetings that SG-1 had had prior to today. Daniel's brow was furrowed and Jack could tell that the archeologist was having trouble stopping himself from joining Captain Tugrall's explorations of the alien inscriptions.

Looking over at Teal'c, he found the Jaffa staring at him intently. Teal'c recognized the mock-up setting. As usual, Jack could not decipher any information from the Jaffa's carefully schooled face of impassivity. The intensity of the large man's gaze did let Jack know that the Jaffa was seriously aware of how painful the immediate future might be.

Finally, O'Neill looked over at Carter. She looked back at him steadily. No emotion showing on her face. She recognized the setup. Very well.

"OK, campers, let's get this show on the road," he spoke up to pull their attention from their explorations. "Everyone step over here," and he pointed to a large, clear area off to the side. "Now, in this scenario, we will only need Lt. Haley, Captain Tugrall and Colonel Chavez - the rest of you will just be unseen observers. Lt. Haley, please stand over there," O'Neill directed the lieutenant off to the left. "Colonel Chavez, you stand over… there….and Captain Tugrall, you stand just to the right of that side of the archway."

"Now the quick and dirty backstory is that Captain Tugrall is a renegade NID agent who has information about a possible off-world warehouse of alien technology. Unfortunately, he 'evilly' withheld the detailed information in order to ensure that he was taken along on the mission to find said warehouse," he paused and then continued, "Now here we are… on this alien world and Captain Tugrall has this," and O'Neill passed him a small hand-sized device, "and it is supposed to control this archway, somehow."

"Lieutenant Haley, what do you think of this structure and this archway?" O'Neill asked the young officer.

She took one more quick look around and then responded, "I do not recognize any of this, sir," she admitted.

"Any ideas what it's for? Or where this warehouse of alien technology might be hidden?" O'Neill continued.

"No sir," Haley admitted again.

O'Neill nods at Tugrall and then steps back to join the rest of the observers. Unbeknownst to the others, Tugrall was briefed on his part in this earlier in the day. Tugrall steps over and attaches the device to the wall at around eye-level.Next, the Captainworks with the device and activates it. As he turns it, different symbols light up. The archway gate does not open nor show any signs of activation.

"I don't know why it's not working," Tugrall addresses Chavez.

"Try again," Chavez directs while he and the Lieutenant watch Tugrall's attempts.

"Damn," Tugrall swears, "I don't understand why it's not working," he repeats his earlier statement.

"Lieutenant Haley, see what you can do," Chavez orders and Haley obediently steps over next to Tugrall to examine the device on the wall. Tugrall moves slightly beside her to give her room and then he snatches her zat out of her hip holster and quickly shoots her in the back while using her as cover from Colonel Chavez.

Chavez immediately straightens up and starts to bring his weapon to bear on the renegade agent, but Tugrall quickly zats the Colonel.

And that's it. The scenario is over.

Both of the good guys are down and the bad guy is still standing.

Captain Tugrall apologetically helps Lt. Haley to her feet as Chavez stands up and dusts himself off. The zats are imtars… training zats set to very low power.

"Allright, campers, what happened here? What went wrong and what do we -not- do next time? You know the drill, let's run it through," O'Neill orders and then steps back as the members of SG-8 and SG-9 crowd together and start hashing out the scenario and the potential alternatives.

Jack looks once more over at his teammates as they stand back with him watching the other teams wrestle with the latest exercise. Daniel looks puzzled and curious. Teal'c still looks impassive and he meets Jack's eyes with no warmth. Carter's face is also impassive and Jack wonders if she has been taking lessons from the stoic Jaffa.

After 10 minutes or so, the conversations between the members of SG-8 and SG-9 die down a bit and O'Neill knows that they have come to some conclusions.

Time to face the music. "Finished?" O'Neill asks in an authoritative voice that ends the last few conversations still in progress. "Lieutenant Peters, identify the crux of the problem," O'Neill puts the youngest member on the spot.

"The renegade agent was able to take Lieutenant Haley's weapon and shoot her and her commanding officer with it," Peters responds correctly.

"Very good, Lieutenant," O'Neill praised the young man. "Lieutenant Haley, how do you respond to that?" O'Neill directed the next question at her.

"That is correct, sir. I was focused on the alien device and I allowed my weapon to be taken from me and used against myself and my commanding officer," and her tone of voice was full of disgust and self-recrimination.

"So, how could you have prevented this Lieutenant?" O'Neill prompted.

Haley hesitated for a moment and then, "I could have taken off my P90 and my zat and put them over by the Colonel…?" she offered.

O'Neill nodded encouragingly, "Yes…,"

And then Colonel Chavez spoke up, "But that should have been my call as the CO. I was in charge and having one of my officers disarm in the field should be my call," and O'Neill nodded again with satisfaction as he heard Chavez say what they all needed to hear. "I should have had Tugrall move away from the Lieutenant," Chavezadded and Jack nodded.

"The crux of this scenario was that Lt. Haley is both a professional soldier and a scientist….," Chavez continued. "However, when she is in the 'scientist role', she is vulnerable and the rest of us have to step up and watch her back. I did not do that. Of all of the possibilities that I was watching for, I was not prepared for Tugrall to shoot Haley in the back. And that was my fault. It was my job to watch her back while she was focused on the alien device," Colonel Chavez finished.

And the dissection went on from there. O'Neill questioned all of them for their observations and critiques. Everyone except the members of SG-1. Daniel continued to listen curiously, and Jack saw him looking questioningly at Carter. Teal'c remained silent. Carter maintained perfect control over her facial expressions.

The final scenario of the day was set up across the training compound. A crashed alien ship is discovered by a 4-man SG team consisting of Major Wong, Lt. Haley, Captain Connors and Captain Tugrall. The SG team meets the alien shipwreck survivors and one of the aliens escorts Lt. Haley into the ship so that she can assess whether or not she can assist with any repairs. Next, the aliens and the remaining SG team members are attacked from the woods. Together, they fend off the attack. One of the aliens on each side is injured. Then the aliens in the woods retreat into the forest. The SG CO questions why the alien attackers were using the same type of weapons as the alien survivors. The survivors explain that the attackers are escaped prisoners.

The SG CO orders Captain Tugrall to escort the injured alien survivor back to the SGC for treatment, to bring General Hammond up to date on their situation on the planet, and to request a small naquadah power source to assist Lt. Haley with the repairs to the alien ship. The SG CO and Major Wong then accompany the remaining alien survivor on a search for the attackers in the woods.

Lt. Haley is able to recharge the ship's power systems…. and then, she discovers that the aliens that the SGC team first met were actually the escaped prisoners and that the aliens in the woods were the rightful owners of the damaged ship. Finding her radio stolen, she confronts her alien escort, restrains his arms and legs, reclaims her radio and then calls her CO. She can not explain everything over the radio as she doesn't know what the other aliens will hear.

Unfortunately, the alien (who was originally with her CO and Major Wong) has slipped away from her teammates and he knocks her unconscious and ties her up and then releases the one that she'd captured.

O'Neill stuck mainly to the facts and events of the SG-1 mission to P2X-005 where they'd discovered the shipwrecked Seberus. He had them act out pieces of it. He only altered minor details here and there. Taking out a few that weren't necessary. Adding a few to make things work in the mock-up. But he left the basic fundamental events as they had actually happened. Standard military practice… learn from the past.

A half-later and he was standing back as the members of SG-8 and SG-9 hashed through the decisions and the alternatives and the ramifications. Again, Daniel watched everything curiously… again, this was another mission that he'd missed while he was ascended. Teal'c maintained his ever-present imperturbable demeanor. Carter watched and listened… comparing everything to the actual events… measuring, assessing and evaluating. He smiled to himself… she was the only person that he'd ever met who he could actually -see- think…. he almost felt like he could see the wheels turning… that he could see the synapses firing.

And, then he decided it was time wrap this one up, "Allright campers," he called out to them again and the conversations and debates trailed off quickly as they all turned to look at him. As with the other scenarios, he asked them pointed questions and they worked their way through the evaluation and dissection of the training scenario.

"Does anyone see a common thread between this scenario and the last one?" O'Neill asked.

"Yes, sir… I think I do, sir," Haley volunteered with apprehension in her voice.

"I kind of thought you might see it, Lieutenant," O'Neill gave her a small, encouraging grin and nodded for her to continue.

"Umm… well… I was knocked out in both of these last two scenarios, sir…," Haley started and then her voice trailed off as she was uncertain as to what to say next.

"And the point would be….?" O'Neill prompted.

But Major Wong spoke up next, "Not to let our scientists work unattended, sir?" And O'Neill winced as he watched the reactions amongst the scientists present. Most looked a bit incensed and Daniel simply looked angry.Except forTeal'c of course, Carter was the only other one who showed no reaction. No reaction at all.

Glancing back at the assembled group, he realized that he needed to rescue Major Wong from the wrath of his scientific colleagues. "Major, you are getting close to the answer, but you don't quite have it yet," and he paused, took a breath and then continued, "The common thread between these last two scenarios was that our SG teams include professional soldiers who are also brilliant scientists and scholars… It's easier when your team includes a member who is simply a scientist or a scholar… then you know that your job is to protect while they work with their rocks and doohickeys," that earned him a few grins… even from the soldier-scientists…., "But it's all too easy to forget that when one of your teammates is in scientific-geek-mode," and that earned him a few glares... "It's easy to forget that they can't defend themselves when they are absorbed with some intellectual problem."

"Take SG-1 for example," O'Neill continued, "We have an astrophysicist and an archeologist/linguist. Now, with Daniel, capable as he may be with a gun and all, with Daniel, I -know- that when he is poring over his rocks and musty parchments, I -know- that I am supposed to protect him. He's busy… he can't watch out for attacking natives or rampaging Go'a'uld or other such nastiness."

"But with Carter, here, it's more difficult," he paused again and glanced over at his SG-1 2IC. Her face was still impassive and she was listening quietly. "It's more difficult because we all know that she's a competent, professional soldier. And everyone knows that she's a certified genius who can hotwire a Stargate with chewing gum and bailing wire," and now he'd finally gotten a reaction to escape onto her face… a small look of exasperation played across her face… she never sought public praise… and she definitely wasn't happy that the day's training exercises appeared to be ending with these words.

"So… sometimes we expect her to be able to do both simultaneously. And that's not fair – or reasonable," he continued in spite of her earlier reaction. "So, the last lesson of the day is one that I have to keep relearning and I know that all of you should think about it. Our SG offworld teams are different. Very different from regular military teams. Some of your very capable colleagues will be asked to step outside the traditional military-soldier role in order to explore an alien language or an alien technology. Once your teammate steps into that scientific role, you must pick up the responsibility for their well-being… just like you would with a non-military scientist or diplomat under your care."

Pausing again, he looked around to see a mixture of expressions. The scientist-soldiers still looked vaguely disgruntled. Carter had pulled her expression back under control and her face was again impassive.

"There's another challenge, folks," he said this a bit more softly to catch their attention, "Your soldier-scientist colleagues are -not- going to want your 'protection'… this will be a sore spot because they are competent soldiers… and they don't want to feel like a burden to you anymore than you would want to be a burden to them," scanning the faces now, he saw wary expectation, "so everyone has to tread a fine line of professionalism and respect. Those of you who are scientists, those of you who will be called on to translate alien writings, or figure out alien technology, you must help the rest of us – help you. Allow us to watch your back," and he paused again and glanced over at Carter, "And remind us to watch your back when we forget."

"So, Major Wong, you were the CO for this last exercise, what should you have done differently?" O'Neill directed the questions back to the teams.

"I should have sent Captain Connors or myself along with Lt. Haley when she was focused on the ship assessment and repairs," the Major responded quickly.

O'Neill nodded, pleased. "So, Lt. Haley, beings that your CO was sending you off alone with a newly-met alien, what should you have done?"

The young soldier-scientist paused and the responded carefully, "I should have requested that one of either Major Wong or Captain Connors accompany me into the ship as backup while I was focused on the ship assessment and repairs."

O'Neill nodded again. He knew that these were important lessons for everyone to learn. And relearn. Young Haley, for example, was a bit hotheaded and she would undoubtedly argue vociferously if anyone attempted to even insinuate that she couldn't watch out for herself. But she was going to have to let her teammates do just that. Watch out for her. Because she was going to be one of the ones with their heads stuck inside some alien doohickey. And she wouldn't be able to help defend against attacks. She couldn't do both simultaneously. She needed to realize that. And so did her teammates.

And so did SG-1. So did O'Neill. And so did Carter. Carter was nowhere near as hotheaded or quick-tempered as Haley. But, being a female scientist in a male-dominated military world had ensured that Carter was very sensitive about maintaining her competence as a soldier.

"Macho tactics and demeanors are great in training programs. They weed out the weak. And we soldiers all learn to be strong and confident. But offworld, we all need to fight that macho instinct and learn to offer help and when to ask for help. Otherwise people die…. for no other reason than macho militaristic pride," and he kept his tone serious and he could see the stunned admiration in Daniel's eyes.

"The examples today dealt with our scientist-soldiers, but the rule is more far-reaching in application. Everyone needs backup when focused on any other tasks. If you are pitching the tent and building the fire, then one of your teammates should be watching your six – with no other duties than that," and he paused again before continuing, "If you are taking a 'leak', then you are definitely otherwise occupied….," and there were some smirks around the group here, "and one of your teammates should be on alert… because you are -not-," and he was satisfied as he concluded with his typical brand of dialogue.

Jack knew that they'd both screwed up on those missions that the last two training exercises were based on. He'd screwed up with Maybourne… Jack had been very, very suspicious of the ex-NID agent… but Jack had still let his guard down. And then he'd committed that second error. Carter had been standing there to the side. Fully kitted out as the soldier that she was. P90 in her arms, zat in a holster. She'd stepped over when Maybourne had pretended that he couldn't get the device to work. She'd stepped over and dropped her P90 to hang from its strap and turned her attention onto the device at eye level on the wall.

And at that moment, she was defenseless.
Her back to Maybourne and O'Neill.
Her attention on trying to understand some new alien technology that she'd never seen before.

And Maybourne had taken her zat and shot her point blank in the spine. Jack still shuddered at how he knew that must have felt. The zat worked on the nervous system to create pain and paralysis. And Maybourne had shot her point blank in the back.

She'd collapsed and Maybourne zatted O'Neill before Jack had barely processed what had happened. Jack hadn't gone down as hard as Carter – he wasn't shot from as close, nor was he shot in the spine.

When Maybourne had jumped through the activated archway, Jack leapt after him. And then had to spend a month marooned on the planet's moon with a psychotic Maybourne before rescue finally arrived.

Carter, he knew, fully blamed herself for what happened. Maybourne had taken her weapon…. and that was an inexcusable failure for a soldier… and then Maybourne had shot her and her CO – with her weapon… again, another abysmal failure for a soldier. Add in their strong feelings for their fellow SG-1 teammates…. and hers and his in particular, and Jack knew that Carter held that mission as one of her personal failures.

But O'Neill knew that she was expecting too much from herself. And that he fell into the same trap sometimes. Unconsciously. She was just so solid and reliable that it was easy to forget that she was only one person.

O'Neill knew that it was his fault that Maybourne had shot the two of them. It was O'Neill's responsibility to watch her back (literally) when she was focused on some alien doohickey. (Ref the trilogy 'The Muse', 'Nu' and 'Choices' by Aeddey)

The image of Maybourne's zat flashing into her back and her collapsing limply… that image kept replaying in his head.

That had been his failure.
And he knew that she thought it was hers.

He grinned to himself as he realized that they were both doing the same thing. Trying to take all of the blame. Trying to own all of the blame.

He looked up at the night sky above the hidden complex in the mountain. They'd finished the exercises and critiques hours ago. The others had showered, changed and most had gone out for dinner. He'd chosen to take the night off alone. He needed some time to think. A little fishing for no fish would just fit the bill perfectly, but there was no lake in the immediate vicinity, so he settled for stargazing.

He thought back over the past 8-10 years. Back to when he'd first met Doctor Daniel Jackson, archeologist. Geek. Sneezing geek. Oh, and the allergies truly did add to that geeky persona. Jack grinned to himself. With Daniel he'd at first had no patience for the young scholar's lack of military capabilities…. but Jack had been fully aware of his responsibility to watch the young man's back. To defend and protect. Jack had known what Daniel's task was and Jack had known what his own task was. Separate and simple. Daniel translates and Jack protects. Separate and simple.

But Carter…. she was a soldier. She watched her CO's six. She helped protect and defend. She was trained in military tactics, protocols and weapons. She was competent, professional and she respected the chain of command. She was sooooo not typical of most scientists that O'Neill had met previously.

And… Carter was a brilliant scientist. A brilliant mind that could accept new data and integrate it with what she already knew and then extrapolate into new directions. Jack wasn't a fool, he knew that she was special. He knew that lots of scientists and highly intellectual people could not handle the diversity of information and concepts that Carter could. Her mental dexterity and her far-reaching mental flexibility were rare.

And he'd seen her focused on her intellectual puzzles in her lab. He could walk up to her and she wouldn't even notice that he was in the room. Until he said something… or started fiddling with something….

He knew that look on her face when her eyes lost focus and she concentrated on something that he knew he wouldn't be able to understand if it were illustrated with pictures.

So, how could he forget all that when they went into the field?

It was his job to protect her.

How could he ever get complacent about that?

He shook his head silently as his eyes scanned the stars above. It was his job to protect her. The words kept repeating themselves. It was his job to protect her.

It was his job to protect her.

How could he ever get complacent about that?

Idly he identified the common constellations as his thoughts wandered.

"Sir?" and he turned to see Carter slowly walking up from behind him.

"Hey," he acknowledged and then turned back to the stars, implicitly inviting her to join him.

She quietly walked over and stood beside him. "I saw that you'd signed out, but your truck was still in the lot… so I thought you might be over here…," she explained even though he hadn't asked. "I…don't want to disturb you…?"

He glanced back at her, "You aren't bothering me, Carter," and he gave her a grin that she could barely see in the starlight. He saw her small nod, but she still looked uncertain.

"So… how do you think it went today?" he asked and kept his tone casual. Just a CO asking his 2IC's opinion on the day.

She didn't answer immediately as she considered her answer. And then, "You make a great teacher, sir…," she responded, but left her answer open to many levels of interpretation.

He knew that he would have to get more specific. "And what about those last two exercises? Do you think that they were well chosen? Did they achieve their training objectives?"

Another silence as she considered her answer. "Yes, sir, I believe that you have helped Lieutenant Haley and the other officers who are scientists. It isn't easy to ask for help… from the more… traditional military colleagues," she glanced over at him and then back into the distance, "and I believe that the overall message was also well put and well received by everyone in SG-8 and SG-9. Even Colonel Chavez," she added.

He let a small silence percolate between them.

And then, "And how about with us? With SG-1?" he pursued non-threateningly and he saw her wince a little.

And then she grinned, "Well, I -know- that you knocked Daniel for a loop! He wouldn't stop talking about it at dinner. He suggested that we check and make sure that you aren't actually an alien or a clone or some such…. sort of along the lines of 'Who Are You and What Have You Done With Jack O'Neill?" she smiled widely at that.

"Hmmmphhh…!" he snorted in return and then grinned himself, "Nice to know that I can still surprise the SpaceMonkey," he smirked.

"And even Teal'c commented on, I quote, 'O'Neill's wiseness and maturity acquired with his advancing age'," she attempted the Jaffa's deep deliberate tones and then grinned.

"Maturity…?," he self-mockingly spluttered for effect, "And 'advancing age'? He's more than twice my age and -maturity-," he protested.

"Yes, sir," she grinned and looked up at the stars. "I'm sure that you can convince him that he's wrong, sir" she said cryptically with a carefully tenored teasing tone.

"Careful, Carter… careful….," he warned with narrowed eyes, but the grin was still on his face.

A few more moments of silence. He'd asked her for her assessment of the last two exercises. She'd told him that SG-8 and SG-9 appeared to have learned valuable lessons. And that Daniel and Teal'c were impressed. But she'd carefully omitted herself and her opinions regarding SG-1. But he hadn't expected anything else. He knew her very, very well.

"So… how do -you- think the last two exercises applied to -us-? To SG-1?" he asked directly.

More silence. Jack was grateful that it was a pleasant evening out. Not too cold. No wind. Clear skies. No unpleasant distractions. Just a breathtaking night sky… and a serious talk with his 2IC.

The silence lengthened and he considered repeating his question. She sensed his restlessness and she broke the silence. "I heard you, sir," she said it softly, so softly he barely heard her.

And then he waited for her to continue. But she didn't. And he realized that that was her answer. Regarding the training exercises. She heard him. She heard the message, she got the objectives. She understood how they applied to SG-1.

She heard him.

But she didn't elaborate. Did she accept the message? Would she admit that she wasn't solely to blame for the events that transpired on those missions? Would she let him take the blame that was his?

"You know… it would be easier for me if you were a lousy soldier," he offered and saw her look at him with quizzical frustration, "you know… if you acted like a typical geek," and he raised his eyebrows at her, "then I would always be aware that you were annoying dead weight that I had to put up with….," and now she had one eyebrow raised in askance at him, "But…. No… I have to get Commando Carter… competent soldier… polite even…. no geekiness ever evident…. except when technobabbling," he hastened to insert and she rolled her eyes. "You know… you look like a solid soldier even when you are in mid-technobabble?" and he stopped waiting for a response.

"I don't know how to answer that…, sir," and he could hear some amused(?) exasperation in her tone.

"That's OK, I'll continue," and he grinned widely, "OR, you could have been a great soldier and a lousy scientist. Then, I'd know to not ask you to look at any doohickeys and I'd just put you on sentry duty and the 3am watch. Easy, simple," and he waited again.

"Still not sure what to say, sir," she replied, sufferance evident now in her tone.

"You just need to let me know that you aren't taking all the blame for my getting stranded with Maybourne. That was -my- fault," and before she could object, "Ach, ach…, I will let you share the blame, if you insist, but that's as far as it goes," and he spoke more forcefully here. "It was my responsibility to watch your back, Carter… and I let you get -shot- in the back… and I got shot myself…. I screwed up. Plain and simple."

"Sir… he took -my- weapon….," her voice was full of disgust.

"Yeah, we should have made sure that no weapons got near Maybourne…," and he watched to see her reaction to his use of the collective pronoun. He saw her close her eyes and nod briefly.

"Um… Carter…?" he asked.

"Yes, sir?"

"What does it feel like to get shot in the back by a zat held that close to you?" he asked apprehensively.

"About like you'd expect, sir," she said non-committally.

"How long were you out?" he persisted.

"Way too long, sir," she answered unhelpfully.

"So…. next time you're looking at some alien techno-gadget….?" he went back to his original objective.

Silence answered him again.

And then, she decided on her words, "Next time, sir, I'll make sure that my gun isn't within reach of anyone who I don't trust with it….," she stated.

"And… you'll make sure that your CO hasn't gotten complacent?" he prodded.

She looked at him seriously and then looked away and shook her head. "That could be a bit more… challenging…. sir."

"Yeah, making sure that your CO is doing his job -is- especially tricky…. but it is also part of your job, Carter," and he allowed her this. This blame she could have. Because he needed her help. As his second in command, he needed her to back him up, to help him see what he missed, to provide a counterpoint and to provide another conscience. He needed her to provide alternatives. And he needed her to help him see what he missed.

"So there it is, Carter. I'm in command, but I can't do it alone. I need you to help me command. I get to make the ultimate decisions, but I need you to help me be the CO that I'm supposed to be," he paused.

"Yes, sir," she responded correctly.

"You know, I think that's another area where you were just too good….," he added and he saw the puzzled look on her face again. "You follow the chain of command. You respect the chain of command. You follow my orders and rarely question them. You are just such a good soldier that… I forget that in the moment of my command decisions… I think I forget what else you are."

She didn't attempt to respond to that and a few more moments of silence passed as they both wandered through their own thoughts.

"Carter?"

"Yes, sir?"

"There you go again…."

"Sir?" and at least some non-militarily-correct exasperation crept back into her tone.

"That's a little better," he teased and he knew that she was probably rolling her eyes again. "Carter… you need to start stepping up a bit more… respectfully, of course," he added, "But I think… with SG-1… and with me… you need to speak up a bit more. You need to consider things from the command standpoint more often… put yourself in my shoes and evaluate what I'm doing…"

"Sir, if I thought that any of your decisions or orders were improper, I would say something," she stated quietly yet clearly.

"Mmmmhmmm… yes, in big moral questions or decisions, I know you would. But I think that we've all gotten a bit comfortable in our roles on SG-1. We know each other so well…. We have long established roles and we need to start growing beyond them. At first, I needed you as a solid military subordinate. It's been the two of us from the Air Force and then Daniel, the archeologist and Teal'c the Jaffa. But the two of us are the ones from the military. Same training. Same code of ethics. Same country to defend. And you have always been the one that I knew -had- to follow my orders. Daniel and Teal'c can't be court-martialed if they refuse."

"So…. it's time to grow beyond that simple set up. Up to now, you've been my 2IC and the team's physicist slash ad-hoc engineer. You need to think of each situation as if you were in command. I know that you've been in command. You've taken teams out without me. And you've done great. But when we're back to Danny, Teal'c, you and me… then we all fall back into the same old roles. I want you more as a colleague now… instead of a subordinate…," he paused…. "Of course…. I'll still be in command… for ultimate decisions," he grinned.

"Yes, sir," she replied again. So politely. So properly. And he sighed and gave her a rueful grin. "I'm trying to think of something sarcastic and semi-witty, sir, but I'm afraid I'm coming up blank tonight," she waved her hands a bit in amused frustration.

"Carter… after all these years, I'd thought that more of me would have rubbed off on you….," he teased.

"Well, my dad, Daniel – and even Janet – have told me that I've been around you too much already, sir," and she now gave him a sly grin at his raised eyebrows. "And they didn't specify as to what aspect of my behavior they were referring too…. although, I suspect that it's my choice of wording at times…," she shrugged and then grinned up at the sky.

"Hmmmm….," and he rejoined her gaze up at the stunning display above them.

A few more comfortable moments of silence.

"I know that you had already figured out that whole scientist-soldier thing already, Carter," he broke the silence and waited for her response again.

"Sir?"

"Yeah… I actually got the idea for the training exercises from you, Daniel and Teal'c," he elaborated a bit more… but not enough…. he was teasing her.

She waited and then prompted, "Sir?" again.

He smiled.
He hoped that somethings never changed.
At least until he retired. Or she did.

"Yeah, since I've been running the SGC, I haven't been able to go out with you all that often… and last week, when I did finally get to go back out with you in the field… I noticed the difference when we got to the ruins and artifacts," she noticed that he didn't call them rocks and doohickeys, "When Daniel was enamored by the alien inscriptions, you stayed on alert. You didn't inspect the alien doohickeys," and now he said doohickeys with relish, "and then later, Daniel deliberately tore himself away from his rocks," and he said rocks with ill-concealed glee, "and Daniel helped with sentry duty while you were focused on the alien gadgets," and he took a breath before continuing seriously, "And you all stayed together. Fairly close."

She nodded and considered his words. "Yes, sir. We talked it over before we went out months ago. We wanted to keep SG-1 together, but we knew that the team dynamic would be seriously different when you weren't with us. I would be nominally in command…. but as you pointed out, neither Daniel nor Teal'c have to follow my orders the same way that a USAF soldier would. Neither Daniel nor Teal'c can be court-martialed if they don't follow my orders," and she took a breath herself before continuing. "We needed to work out the new team dynamics -before- we went offworld. I didn't want to look stupid sending out orders into thin air to friends who didn't want to hear them."

"But Daniel and Teal'c were great, sir," she continued. "We talked it all over and we decided that it could work. The three of us are more like equals, or colleagues, rather than a typical military unit. But both of them have been more than willing to follow my decisions in the field. I just try not to make decisions on anything trivial or trite. It's difficult to command your friends, sir."

He nodded empathetically, "That's why I relied so heavily on your presence, Carter. You gave me that military subordinate who followed orders. You gave me… what you don't have now. Sorry about that…," he grinned ruefully at her.

"It's OK, sir," she gave him a small answering grin. "Command was never my objective in the military, sir. I don't really want to order any one around."

"Hmmm… are you saying that I do?" he challenged playfully.

"No sir, of course not," she answered too well and he mock-glared at her.

"So… you're not after command… or climbing the ranks…?" he asked knowingly.

"No, sir," she replied quietly, still looking up at the stars.
And he knew that's what she'd always wanted.
To go to the stars.
To explore the universe.

All the rest of this stuff just got in the way.
Stuff like the Go'a'uld.
And the NID.
And military politics.
And the regulations.

They just got in the way.

Of her exploration of the stars, the universe and the astrophysical concepts and equations that made so much sense to her.

He smiled as the starlight reflected off of her face.

"Well, I kind of knew that you weren't a status-seeker, Carter, when you turned down the commands of SG-5 and then SG-7 the next year," he tossed out something that they'd never talked about before.

She looked startled. She hadn't even been sure that he'd known about the offers. General Hammond had made the offers available to her and she'd declined each time. She'd never come to discuss them with O'Neill and she hadn't even asked the General for time to consider the offers. She'd simply politely listened and then politely declined. Neither Hammond nor O'Neill had ever pushed her to explain her reasons. SG-1 was special and so was Sam Carter. They'd both gotten a little leeway from General Hammond.

"I -like- being a member of SG-1, sir," she tried to explain. "I like going through the gate with Daniel and Teal'c and…. you, sir," and she paused and then continued, "I never wanted to be part of a Special Ops team…. or command for command's sake….I feel like SG-1 has a purpose… and I would feel so…. it would just feel so…. wrong… to move to another team, sir."

"We'd miss you too, Carter," he spoke quietly again.

"I know that as time passes, SG-1 will change. We're all getting older… and things…. happen… people get hurt… people…. die… people will choose to move on…. to retire… to get married… to settle down in one way or another….but for now… as long as we are all here… I…. just want to be with the team as long as the team is here… as long as the four of us want to keep doing this…," and her voice trailed off again.

"And when there's no more SG-1… with the four of us?" he asked and held his breath.

Silence answered him again as she mulled over her responses.

"It depends on who leaves first, and for what reasons," she answered both cryptically and very well. "It depends on what happens to change the team, and how long from now it happens," she continued. "Right now… I still want to go through the Gate, sir. Preferably with SG-1…. but I still want to explore… to see new worlds, to travel across the galaxy, to discover new technologies… I don't want to just sit in a lab… I'm not ready for that yet."

He smiled again as he saw the sparkle in her eyes as she thought about exploring across the galaxy, seeing new planets and discovering alien doohickeys.

He really did have feelings for her that he -never- had for Kowalsky.

They let the silence settle between them again.
Each of them scanning the stars above.
Thinking about the vast distances that they'd traveled.
The myriad of planets that they'd visited.
The alien cultures and peoples that they'd met.

And here they were.
On Earth.
Looking up at the familiar constellations.
So different in their familiarity now.
So touchable.
So real.

And could see that light in her eyes.
That light of wonder and discovery.
That sparkle that fired a grin of anticipation on her face.
That sparkle that lit the fire in her heart.

Just one more of the things that made her so special.

He sighed again and she looked over at him questioningly. Not knowing where his thoughts had gone. Not knowing that he wanted to take her in his arms so badly. She was someone that he just wanted to hold and cherish forever. Today, tomorrow and from then on. To just hold her. To just be with her. To just know that she was allright. To know that she felt his presence.

He really didn't have an overwhelming need to jump her bones, so to speak. Although he wasn't adverse to dreaming about it occasionally. But that type of desire was not burning the fire in his soul. No, this went deeper. He simply wanted to be her close companion. Forever. He'd like the other. But he knew that that wouldn't fulfill him. What he wanted was deeper than sex. What he needed was to feel her soul.

He shook himself away from those thoughts.
They were in the military.
He was her CO.
Stay professional.
Stay friends.

"So… are we going to be OK?" he asked.

"Sir?" she looked confused at his umpteenth vaguely worded non-sequiter and he smiled.

"Are you willing to admit that it wasn't all your fault… on those two missions…?" he pursued. "Because… you know… that I'm willing to stay out here all night and into tomorrow if we need to keep talking about it…," he threatened with a smile.

She took a deep breath and looked off into the forest. "Allright, sir… we can share the blame…but….," and then she trailed off.

He waited. "But…?"

She glanced over at him and then looked back into the depths of the forest. "I'm just tired of failing….," and here she stopped him as he started to object, "Let me finish, sir," and he grudgingly kept silent for the moment. "I'm tired of failing to bring my CO home safe." and he heard the anger in her voice. "That is part of my job, sir… and… I just keep failing…. You spent three months on Edora, you spent a month on that moon, you spent days of torture with Ba'al,..."

And now he did interrupt, "Hold it there, Carter. First, it's not your fault that the Edorran gate was hit by a meteor and buried. And, -you- are the one that got me back," and he saw some hurt flash over her face at that, but she quickly banished it, "Second, we can share the blame with Maybourne, although it was mostly -my- fault, I will let you have some because you are taking it anyway. And, then -again-, you were the one that got me home. You were the one that figured out that we were on that moon," and he paused for breath. "And Third, you had nothing to do with my time with Ba'al. So don't even try to take responsibility for that one."

"I asked you to consider taking the symbiote…," and he could hear the torment in her voice.

"And I wouldn't be standing here if I didn't… so….?" he countered.

"And you wouldn't have been tortured by Ba'al if you hadn't…." she replied.

"No…. you're right… I'd be dead….," he tried that and waited for her reaction. Neither of them was going to win here. He'd gone through hell because he'd agreed to take that Tokra symbiote… but he was also alive because he'd taken that Tokra symbiote. There hadn't been an option that avoided the snake-in-the-head while still offering a chance for living and breathing.

And they both knew it.

But she was still blaming herself. He sighed in frustration. He couldn't seem to stop her self-flagellation. She cared too deeply. And she expected so much of herself. Held herself to such high standards.

So he went back to her earlier admission.
She was tired of failing to bring back her CO.
That was him.

"Carter… do you think that you would be so tired of failing to bring back your CO… if you had had a different CO?" he asked.

She looked at him with questioning eyes. His question could be answered on so many different levels. And he let it stand there in its ambiguity for a few moments while they both thought of the different answers.

And then he saved them from the more personal questions and answers. "What if I was Ferretti? What if I wasn't so….?" and he left it open for her to pick up.

She nodded slightly and smiled a little. "Probably not, sir. Ferretti's team doesn't seem to get the same… unexpected missions with quite the regularity that we do. Ferretti doesn't seem to be quite so….," and then she lost her nerve to say it in front of him.

"So… hell-bent on being the last one through the gate?" he offered. "So…willing to fly into the teeth of every nasty supervillian?" he added and watched her carefully.

And was rewarded with a smile that she couldn't smother. But she didn't voice a reply. She didn't deny his statements, nor did she voice a confirmation. She was so aware that she was his 2IC. She was so aware of the command structure and military decorum.

"Mmmmm….., Carter, I am going to take your silence as agreement and I just want you to think about what I said. If you feel like a failure trying to protect your CO… just remember, that -I'm- your CO… so you have an extra special challenge," and he waggled his eyebrows a bit at her.

"Yes, sir," she replied quietly again and he sighed. He couldn't seem to break through. And he so wanted to…. When Kowalsky had been his 2IC, they'd had such a comfortable professional friendship. Kowalsky called him Jack and hardly ever called him sir when just the two of them were around.

Of course, he probably wouldn't have been comfortable talking to Kowalsky all this time under the stars here….

And that was so close to the reason why she was so formal with him. Because she was -her-. And he was -him-. Because they were them. They had to be so formal… so mindful of protocol and regulations and what was proper and what wasn't.

And, yet, they could stand here comfortably talking about serious professional issues. Here under the stars. Just the two of them.

There was something between them.
He couldn't define it.
He didn't understand it.
He did cherish it.

"Sir..?" she broke the silence this time.

"Yeah?" he responded.

"Do you ever think….," and she hesitated, "Do you ever…..," and she lost her never to ask whatever it was.

"Ever think what?" he prompted.

The silence was tempered by the silent twinkling of the stars above.

"Do you ever… wonder what it would have been like… if Kowalsky… or some other special ops soldier was on SG-1, instead of me?" and she spit the last of it out and then winced as she realized that it might sound so pathetic.

He stared at her. "After all these years? How could you even think that I'd want someone else on my team?" and now he was getting angry. "Carter, if I didn't want you on my team, then you wouldn't be on my team!"

She winced again at the ferocity of his tone and his words. "Yes, sir," she replied quietly.

"Aaaaaa! Carter, look, OK, I'll answer your -ridiculous- question," although he realized that he'd asked her a similar question. "If Kowalsky or some other special ops trained soldier was my second instead of you… then I'd probably be dead by now… or at least retired or booted out," he was still speaking with fire in his voice and she wouldn't look at him.

"Carter, I -know- how lucky I've been over the past years to have had you on my team and I wouldn't trade you for any Special Ops thickneck," he finished.

She was looking studiously at the ground now.

"Carter… how can someone so freaking brilliant... be so insecure?" he voiced a question that he'd asked himself many times over the years.

"Just talented, I guess, sir," she shrugged self-deprecatingly.

But he knew that he wasn't really being fair. She wasn't so much insecure… as she was willing to take responsibility. Willing to expect so much from herself. Willing to consider herself insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

In spite of being such a competent soldier. Such a professional officer. Such a brilliant astrophysicist. Such a technical problem solver.

In spite of all that, she really didn't think much of herself. And that blew his mind. She was humble. Not artificially. She was truly humble. And it was such a large part of his feelings for her. In spite of all that she could do, she was vulnerable. He wanted to reach out and hold her in his arms and comfort her. To hug her tightly and just let her know that she was loved.

But he couldn't. Not while he was her CO. And he hated that part of his life. Not being able to hold her when he wanted to so desperately. She definitely wasn't Kowalsky. She was Sam Carter. And she deserved…. so much more….

And then he reached over and took her in his arms and hugged her tightly. He heard her startled gasp, but she didn't protest or struggle. Instead, she relaxed and he felt her arms tighten around him as she held him tightly.

Just a hug.
They could do that, right?

Yes, probably.
If it went no further.
And they probably shouldn't be doing it out here where it could be misconstrued by someone else who had decided to enjoy the evening.

But they didn't let go.
At least not right away.

And then they slowly stepped away from each other.
She was looking down at the ground.
He was looking off into the dark trees.

"It's getting pretty late, sir," she spoke up, "I guess I should head back in."

"Yeah, I don't think I'm going to head home tonight either," he agreed. "Lumpy, thin military bed it is, I guess," he joked as they headed back to the base.

"See you at breakfast…. 07 hundred?" he asked casually.

She flashed him a quick grin, "Yes, sir."

"And you -are- going to bed, right Carter?" and she looked at him questioningly. "You are -not- going off to your lab to fiddle with any of your doohickeys this late at night, right? Not going to work on any computer stuff….?" he persisted.

She blushed and looked down again as they approached the sentry at the entrance. "No, sir. Not going to the lab….not going to work on any -doohickeys-," and she said that word a little more strongly than the others, "nor any computer programs or such."

"Allright, then," and he smiled at her, "But I think I'll escort you down to your quarters just to make sure that you don't make any detours over to Daniel's office," and she started to protest on principle but he continued, "-and-, I'll scare off any technicians or others who come scurrying along to hand you their latest crisis," he stated with exaggerated bravado and was rewarded with a shy grin of appreciation on her face as they stepped into the elevator. "What?" he asked. "I can defeat Go'a'uld, I can certainly fend off pesky technicians and lower grade subordinates!"

o0o The End o0o

Again, all of my thanks to all of the other Stargate fanfic writers out there.

I hope that you enjoyed my short story.

Thanks again to Heliopolis, , , The Stargate Novel Archive and all other Stargate SG1 fanfiction websites.

If you like Carter fic or Sam/Jack fanfic, you might like
'Dancing With An Angel' or
'Come Fly With Me' or
'A Beautiful Mind' or
'Nine' or
'Who's An Angel'

I also highly recommend 'Night Sky' by Joolz

Thanks again to all who enjoy Stargate fanfic.