As the 'Gate Turns: Time is of the Essence
Warnings: Minor language
Summary: A gate malfunction strands Jack and Sam, can they hold it together long enough to be rescued or will recent events drive them apart?
Classifications: Series, S/J Angst, Sam/Pete, Drama, Action
Season: Season 8, up through End Game (AU from there)
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-I, the Goa'uld and all other characters who have appeared in the series STARGATE SG-1 together with the names, titles and backstory are the sole copyright property of MGM-UA Worldwide Television, Gekko Film Corp, Glassner/Wright Double Secret Productions and Stargate SG-I Prod. Ltd. Partnership. This fanfic is not intended as an infringement upon those rights and solely meant for entertainment. All other characters, the story idea and the story itself are the sole property of the author.
Author's Note: The title of what has turned out to be a series is in reference to a thread on the SciFi Stargate bboard (I can't for the life of me remember whose thread that was, give me a shout out if you see this). We were laughing about the soapiness of the show and bemoaning Pete. This is the result of my what-ifs. It started out as a satisfactory way to deal with Pete without killing him or making him evil and it took off from there. I had no idea it would go on so long! It's a series, but there aren't really any cliffhangers, just like episode after episode in my own little future universe.
Feedback: Always appreciated! I tried to be as canon as possible, but who knows!
Part 1: Time is of the Essence
"Hey. It's my prerogative, right? It's one of the good things about being General, and I say that I go. Anyway, I haven't been through the stargate in almost 2 months! Don't want to get rusty." Jack stretched his arms and patted his P-90 almost fondly.
Sam glanced up from her calculations, "I think I've almost got this configured right. We should be able to get a connection."
"Great." Jack rolled up onto the balls of his feet and surveyed the rest of SG-1. "Are we ready to go then?"
Daniel and Teal'c exchanged glances, both bemused by Jack's poorly disguised glee at finally getting to go on a mission through the 'gate again. It seems that being The Man hadn't curtailed any of his more adventurous impulses. When Sam finally called her calculations done, the reunited SG-1 all geared up and waited in the gateroom for a successful dial.
"So, tell me again what is so exciting about this particular planet?"
Daniel sighed and explained once more to Jack, "This is one of the addresses we found from the Ancient tablet. Therefore, possible Ancient goodies and no Goa'uld."
"Ah. Yes, it's all coming back to me now," Jack replied, all the while wondering where that mission report could be in that pile on his desk.
"Not to mention, sir, that we have been unsuccessfully trying to dial this planet for the last few days and I have only just managed to configure the dialing computer to-"
"Yes, yes, Carter, I get it. Now can we get on with it?"
"Yes, sir," answered Sam, with enough barely disguised exasperation to get an eyebrow from Jack. Sam quickly signaled the tech to start the dialing to avoid further discussion. Secretly she was wondering if he still didn't trust her with command of SG-1, but didn't really want to bring the issue up.
Jack, as if he could almost read her mind, gestured for Sam to take the lead up the ramp after the wormhole engaged. He closely followed behind her, literally jumping through in his excitement.
Just as Teal'c and Daniel reached the event horizon, however, the wormhole disappeared, taking the forward half of Teal'c's staff weapon with it. Teal'c lifted the still-smoking end of the weapon up for closer inspection. Daniel glanced from the missing wormhole to the baffled-looking techs and muttered, "Well, that can't be good."
Jack and Sam experienced a much rougher than usual ride through the gate, both being expelled at a rather alarming rate down the stone staircase at the base of the gate. Both momentarily dazed, they lay groaning for a bit before Jack regained his equilibrium enough to shout, "Nice job getting those calculations just right, Carter!"
Sam didn't bother to reply, she was too busy staring at the severed end of a staff weapon. She quickly sat up, looking around for Daniel and Teal'c, already suspecting that they had not followed. Sam picked up the weapon piece and called Jack's attention to it, "Sir." Jack glanced at the staff and then began surveying the ground near the stargate.
"What are you looking for, sir?"
"Just making sure that Teal'c's hand isn't around here somewhere."
Sam seemed to blanch at the idea, but quickly regained her composure. "I am sure that they weren't still in the wormhole when it disengaged," though she still seemed to be pondering the stargate with a curious look on her face.
"I am sure you're right, so lets dial it up and head home so we can figure out what happened."
Sam nodded and headed for the DHD, while Jack surveyed the surrounding landscape to watch for any sign of unfriendlies. It quickly became clear, however, that the stargate was going to be incapable of getting a lock.
Jack looked back over his shoulder at her, "Don't tell me that we can't get back." Sam decided that silence would be the better answer and wandered around the base of the gate to find the MALP that they had sent through an hour or two before SG-1 had traveled through the gate. "I think maybe I can use the MALP to get some readings, maybe figure out what might be interfering with the gate lock." Jack absently nodded and continued to survey their surroundings.
The gate was in the middle of a small clearing of golden brown grass that was completely surrounded by thick forest. There was no evidence of buildings or structures of any kind, only a slightly worn path through the clearing that was small enough to be an animal trail of some kind, rather than a human road. The sky was what really caught Jack's attention, however. It was a milky sort of light orange color that seemed to be made up of liquid.
"I don't understand it!" Sam's exasperated cry brought Jack's attention to her. She was kneeling by the MALP with the casing pulled off of one side.
"What's up, Carter?"
"The MALP's battery is completely drained! It's only been here an hour or so, that should have taken days." Jack accepted this new piece of bad news and nodded upwards. "You ever see a sky like this?"
Sam distractedly looked up, only to make a comical sort of double take, "Never…" Jack was quick to cut her off, as she was beginning to get that I'd-love-to-get-a-closer-look-and-study-this-new-and-interesting-thing look on her face. "Well, we have established that we have no wormhole and no MALP. I suggest we take a survey of the surrounding area, check for people or anything than can help us. I am sure that SGC will dial us up as soon as they can."
Sam wasn't as sure; if they couldn't dial out, it seemed improbable that the SCG could dial back in. Plus, there was still the nagging unease about an inexplicably drained battery and a bizarre sky that seemed to be dimming and becoming more sinister by the moment. She shrugged off her apprehension, however, and followed Jack into the trees.
They spent two hours surveying the area with no sightings of any people or structures. It seemed to be nothing more than an endless line of trees; the only noticeable landmark had been a small lake with a sandy beach, so at least they had a water source. They made it back to the gate as the sky darkened to a deep purple color. No stars were visible. Neither of them were willing to admit that the planet gave them the willies.
"Well, we might as well set up camp. We can take four hour watch shifts." They broke out blankets and some rations and settled down for a night of waiting. As the sky lightened once again, they returned to surveying the area, after trying unsuccessfully to dial the gate again. This pattern continued for several more days and Sam spent some time in the afternoons pulling apart the DHD, hoping that the problem was fixable from their end.
After two weeks on the strange planet, they began to run low on supplies and Sam was running low on ideas. Neither of them voiced the nagging fear that no one was coming from them and that they might not be able to fix the gate. The temperature during the day was rapidly rising, however, so they decided to pull back to the shade of the trees where they set up a slightly more permanent camp.
They easily fell into a schedule, Sam spending her days working to get their technology working, Jack working on survival. He collected and split wood for the fires, and set up snares to catch animals (which, weirdly enough, mostly tasted like chicken). In the evening, Sam brought water to camp and helped prepare whatever Jack had managed to catch or collect.
After they had finished eating and clearing away, they would sit quietly around the fire, sometimes talking about this or that, often revisiting memorable missions. At first Sam had filled the evening with endless technobabble, as Jack would call it, detailing everything that she was attempting. As time passed, however, more often than not, they would simply share a companionable silence, while they both thought of the people and things they had left behind.
"What thing do you miss most, sir?" It was a game they sometimes played, 'if you could have one thing here to make everything more bearable,' and such.
"Well, I don't miss my paperwork," Jack quipped.
"Probably would make a nice fire, though."
"What I wouldn't do for some coffee…or a naquadah generator."
"You and your gadgets," he shook his head at her.
"Well, what about you?"
He shook his head again, "You'd think it's silly."
"Come on, try me."
"I miss stars…" he confessed wistfully.
They both silently looked up at the empty, looming sky, just another reminder that they were a long way from home.
"Damn it, Damn it, Damn it!" The disgruntled yells broke the silence of the forest and were quickly followed by the distinct sound of a piece of machinery being chucked into the lake.
"I hope we didn't need that," said Jack mildly as he came up behind his crazed Second-in-Command.
Sam simply glared at him and put her head in her hands as if trying to drown out the sound of something. "I simply cannot get anything working and to top everything else off, I have the annoying voice of Rodney McKay running through my head!"
At Jack's raised eyebrows, she quickly added, "Not literally of course. I just keep hearing him harp on me for overstepping the programming of the DHD and ignoring warnings from the stargate. I should not have kept trying to dial this planet and accepted that it was off-limits. But I was once again so into wondering if I could get it to work, that I never thought of whether I should make it work! And now look where we are! Stuck on some empty planet for the rest of our lives!"
"Well," Jack said as he sat down next to her, "I guess it could be worse, you could be stuck here with McKay."
Sam rolled her eyes in a very unprofessional manner. "Yeah great, so I could hear him calling me 'dumb blonde' for the rest of my life."
"Dumb- huh?" Sam laughed at Jack's surprised look, as if he was wondering what he was if Sam could be considered a dumb blonde.
"That's right, you were running around with Maybourne when that little sparring match happened. Bastard."
"He actually called you a…" Jack seemed incapable of even saying it in Sam's presence. "I knew he was a git, but come on. Why didn't anyone tell me?"
Sam shrugged. "We were all a little too busy getting Teal'c back. Anyway, he was getting sent to Russia, I figured that was punishment enough. Though now it looks like I have proven him right." Sam sighed and collapsed back on the sandy bank, hands covering her eyes.
"Well," Jack said evenly, "This place isn't so bad. Kinda reminds me that planet I had my nice little vacation on with Maybourne. Minus the crazy weed, of course. Yup, that lake looks full of fish ready for me to not catch them."
Sam peered out at Jack from between her fingers, wondering at his tone. "You aren't thinking of accepting that we are really stuck here are you?"
"Well, a man has to retire somewhere and you are certainly better company than Maybourne." Sam wasn't sure if that was really a compliment, but her heart sort of annoyingly skipped a beat at his mention of retirement and its implications. What would it really mean for them to be stuck here together forever? Would it be so bad? Before her thoughts could get too far away from her, Jack's voice intruded. "But, then again," he continued, "I will never doubt the ingenuity of a geek, a Jaffa or a crazed astrophysicist. I am sure some way will open itself for us to get back."
"I miss them," said Sam, the sound muffled through the hands covering her weary face.
"Yeah," replied Jack as he stared out over the lake, "me too."
When they had been on the planet for three months, Sam officially gave up on the DHD and the MALP, mumbling something about not wasting any more energy on it and began to help Jack with the hunting and gathering aspect of their lives. Even without the technology to work with, their days were still filled with the duties of just trying to survive. They weren't exactly in danger of starving, but neither were they exactly feasting. It's amazing how much you take the conveniences of modern life for granted until suddenly it takes a good hour just to get drinkable water.
One day Jack had left his wood chopping duties to see what was taking Sam so long with the water she was supposed to be bringing back to camp. He scanned the edge of the lake and almost missed her, nearly hidden as she was sitting on a rock a short distance from the shore. Jack headed over to see what she was up to. As he got closer, he noticed that she was staring at something in her hand, her knees hugged up to her chest. When Jack finally realized what it was, he attempted to silently back peddle and give her some alone time, but he managed to snap a branch as he retreated. Her head jerked up, looking at him with a sort of lost look in her eyes. Damn, Jack, he thought, so much for all that stealth training.
"Hey, Carter. Didn't mean to bug you. I'll just see you back at the camp later." He started to retreat back again, but her voice stopped him.
"No, Sir, it's okay, really. I was just…thinking…" Sam's hand closed around the diamond ring sitting in her palm. He was a welcome distraction from the disturbing thoughts she had just been having.
"You miss him." It was a statement, not an accusation, as if he was trying to let her know that it was okay.
"Yeah," Sam hesitantly replied. At least she should miss him, shouldn't she? She had been sitting here, searching for a purification pill to put in the pot of water when her hand brushed against cold metal and hard stone. She had pulled it out and visions of Pete had come to her, unbidden. It was with complete shock that she had realized that she had rarely, if at all, thought of Pete over the last three months. She had been trying to make excuses for why that didn't mean anything. They had, after all, been quite busy just trying to survive not to mention trying to find a way off of this planet. But doubts still nagged at her. It she had a choice, would she rather she was stranded here with Pete? Or does she really prefer the way things are, here, with Jack? How easily I could accept this as my life if I had to, she thought. Pain in her hand brought her back from her musings. She had been gripping the ring so tight that she was sure there were marks on her palm.
Jack observed Sam with a blank expression on his face. Watching her face, Jack was convinced that her anguish was a product of her missing Pete and that the hesitation in her reply was due to her discomfort in discussing such issues with him. They were both still for a while, staring out over the lake. Then Sam broke the silence. "Let's get this water back to camp." And so they walked back together, each deep in their own thoughts.
Less than four weeks later, they were both surprised to wake up to a transformed world. They stood together, staring out of the mouth of the cave they had set up in as home base. While they had both been aware of the changing color of the leaves in the trees and the marginal cooling of the temperature, neither of them were prepared for the overnight change from fall to full-blown winter.
Typically, it was Jack who finally broke their stunned silence. "Damn, and I didn't pack my skates," he groused quietly as he stared out over the frozen lake whose beach was now completely buried under a foot of soft snow. Sam had to smile at the image of Jack skating like Brian Boitano that came unbidden to her mind.
Jack aimlessly wandered out into the wintry world, silently cataloging what they would need to be able to survive the season. Survival would become that much harder. Not that he had necessarily given up on rescue; he was just practical enough to prepare for a long winter. Sam watched him walk pensively near the shore of the icy lake, knowing that he felt the weight of taking care of both of them, no matter how much the idea of being 'taken care of' appalled the independent Sam.
As she watched him slowly pacing the beach as if he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, a plan began to percolate in Sam's mind. Later, she would claim that she had only acted to relieve the tension of being stranded. She was making sure that they kept their mental health by providing relief through exercise. Sam would deny the truth, which was simply that she was feeling incredibly mischievous and that the snow made her feel like a child at Christmas.
Jack wasn't ready for the first hit of soft snow. She had aimed well, the assault made contact right at the collar of his jacket and he could feel the quickly melting slush running down the neck of his shirt. Not the most pleasant of feelings. He was momentarily stunned that Sam had actually hit him with a snowball, but thoughts of revenge quickly overrode any other inclinations. You are so gonna get it, he mused quietly.
Jack turned around and glared at Sam, who was now doing a good impression of an innocent schoolgirl, her eyes wide with faked confusion as if she was trying to say, 'Where ever did that come from?' "Colonel," Jack barked out in his most Generally voice, "what exactly do you think you are doing, assaulting a superior officer?"
The tone of his voice automatically made Sam sort of snap to attention, even as her eyes still glittered impishly. Just as she had opened her mouth with what was surely going to be a scathing retort, her face was unexpectedly filled with snow that had been expertly formed and thrown by her black ops trained superior officer.
The scene quickly went downhill from there, each taking up strategic positions and building armories of snowballs. It is a rare and amazing thing to see two high ranking military commanders use all the skills at their disposal to launch snowball attacks. In the end, however, all their tactical planning saved neither from ending up soaking wet, shivering and laughing like a couple of loons. If anyone from the SGC could have seen them, they would have sent them straight to see Mackenzie.
The craziness of the scene did not escape the notice of either Sam or Jack, but they were just both grateful that the rising tension had been broken. It had been a long while since either of them had really laughed like that, clutching their stomachs and wiping tears from their eyes. Eventually the cold drove them both back into the cave to warm up and dry out, but they went with a much lighter step than they had been able to muster for the last few weeks.
Jack's evaluation of the new situation was right on track, unfortunately for them. Food became even scarcer as the snow piled up around them. Winter on this planet seemed to mean perpetual blizzards punctuated by a few still days where the sky was clear and the temperature plummeted. On such days, they would check and reset their traps, their boots crunching on the glistening snow. The traps were barely catching enough to survive on, however, so Jack and Sam would take out their P-90s and try to track larger game. Luckily, Jack had some experience hunting out in the woods of Minnesota as a kid. Sam had been much more likely to have her head stuck in an engine somewhere, but she quickly learned the basics from Jack. Seeing as hunting animals required the same sort of stealth it took to avoid a pack of Jaffa from finding you, they were a good team. Unfortunately, there was simply not a whole lot of game to be found.
They were out for the fifth time in three weeks. The last two outings had been a bust and they were both dreaming of steak at this point. But you know what they say, if at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again. They were taking advantage of a break in the weather to search in an area on the far side of the lake that they hadn't explored much. They spent a long day slinking in between the trees.
Just as Jack was going to call it a day and retreat back to the relative warmth of the cave, he spotted movement of to his left. Sam noticed it too, and Jack signaled her to circle around, while he stayed in front of the animal. Jack took a second as Sam softly padded through the snow to be impressed at the way they were able to read each other's minds still. They made a good team, always had. He quickly placed his mind back on the strange-looking animal; it looked sort of like an overgrown rabbit with four spindly little legs. It might be ugly, but he was sure it tasted great.
Jack was just getting the animal in his sight, thinking dinner's on, when blood chilling sounds reached his ears. There was a resounding crack, a startled shout and then a splash of water. Jack was at a dead run towards Sam's last position before his mind even connected the dots. Dammit! They had been so distracted by their hunger and the prey that neither of them had noticed that they had circled around to the shore of the lake. By the time Jack made it to what he assumed was the shore, the small hole in a sea of ice and snow had already thinly frozen back over.
Jack rushed to the break in the ice, not even pausing to think about the structural integrity of the rest of the ice. He smashed the butt of his P-90 to break up the newly formed ice. Putting his weapon aside, he reached into the waters, groping for any part of Sam. Not caring that he might drown as well, he dove into the frigid water and searched for any signs of Sam. On his third attempt, just when he thought that he would share in Sam's watery grave, his hand brushed against cloth. Winding his hand around the object, he found himself holding Sam's arm. In a Herculean effort, he dragged both of their water-sogged bodies clear of the cracking lake surface.
Dropping Sam to the ground, he carefully listened for any sign of breathing. His fingers found no pulse at her arctic throat. "Dammit, Sam, don't do this!" Jack ordered as he began to administer CPR. He pounded away at her chest and tried to ignore that her lips were blue as he filled her lungs with much needed oxygen. One, two, three, four, five, breathe! Over and over, he didn't know how long he continued beating at her chest. At one point her heard a snap and was pretty sure he had cracked one of her ribs. But none of that mattered when, after what seemed a lifetime to Jack, Sam began to sputter and cough. "Thank you, thank you," Jack whispered to anyone who might be listening. Sam was breathing again and a pulse, though weak, did beat steadily.
Jack didn't allow himself too long for relief, for other problems were beginning to set in. The sun was rapidly dropping with the temperature, they were both soaked with icy water and they were on the far side of the lake from their shelter. Jack picked up the still-unconscious Sam and began the long trek back. Every step was pushed forward as he silently listed survival points in his head. Get dry, get warm, get dry, get warm. It was fully dark when Jack finally came within sight of the cave, its entrance a murky blot on the cliff wall.
Heaving Sam into the cave, he quickly turned to rekindling the fire, before turning back to Sam. Her clothes would have to go, or she would catch pneumonia. He put water on to heat and then removed Sam's clothes, his heart squeezing painfully at the blue, clammy skin that was revealed. He gently laid her down on a blanket by the fire and wrapped her tightly in an emergency blanket. Once he had gotten her to drink a little heated water, he sat back down by the fire. He reached out a hand to gently touch her face, relieved to see that her lips were beginning to lose their blue tinge. Jack's adrenaline began to drain away. I'll just rest here for a second, he thought as he lay his weary body down on the other side of the fire.
The first thing Sam became aware of was a loud gonging sound, like someone was trying to knock the walls down around her. As she slowly managed to crack open her eyes, however, she was staring at the ceiling of a cave and realized that the pounding sound was actually just her pulse beating at her temple. Every heartbeat hit her head like a sledgehammer. She quickly became aware of two other facts as she struggled to sit up, first off, her chest felt like an elephant had been sitting on it, and second, even slightly more disconcerting, she was completely naked underneath her silvery emergency blanket. As her eyes came into focus in the dimly lit interior, she could see her clothes laid out carefully around what had once been the fire, but was now a smoldering pile of ashes. As her head vibrated at a particularly annoying beat, she remembered the horrific sound of cracking ice and the numbingly cold shock of the water as it enveloped her. She could not remember anything after that.
Sam shivered and wondered why the fire was almost out. She got unsteadily to her feet and tied her blanket toga-style around her, as her clothing was still damp. She intended to throw some wood on the embers when she noticed Jack lying with his back to the fire on the other side. Since he seemed to be sleeping on the job, and had most likely fished her out of the water, she quietly reached over him to get to the pile without disturbing him. As she leaned over, however, she became aware of his shivering and his damp hair. What the-, she thought to herself. She almost cursed out loud when she touched his shoulder to find his uniform icy and soaked to the touch.
"General?" She shook his shoulder, but he simply continued shivering. "Of all the…" Sam was pissed, and freaked out as she realized that he had fished her out, got her dry and warm and then passed out without doing anything for herself. Luckily for both of them, Sam's training kicked in and she started making a mental list of everything to be done. She quickly stoked the fire back up, and then set to the task of removing Jack's wet cloths. She was brisk and clinical about it, not letting her eyes stray or even letting herself pay attention to the body being revealed. Truth be told, he was shivering and quite pale, and inside she was too freaked out about the paleness of his skin and the redness of his face to be thinking of anything else. Once she had removed his cloths and laid them out to dry next to hers, she wrapped him in all the blankets they had with the other emergency blanket on top.
The blankets and fire did not seem to be helping, however, and the spreading redness on his face made her fear that he was getting feverish. She was no doctor, but she knew this could not be good. How could she treat something like pneumonia out here on this wilderness planet in the middle of winter all by herself? Just keep him warm, was all she could think and so she climbed under the mound of blankets next to him and silently willed him to hold on.
Jack's temperature was finally warming up after a few hours, and the violent shivering had begun to dissipate. The alarming redness on his cheeks did not disappear, however, and the dreaded fever began to rise. He did regain consciousness in the early hours of the next afternoon, though.
Sam's head swung around at the sound of that weak voice and scrambled to his side. "Sir, how do you feel?"
"Oh, just peachy," came the weakly sarcastic voice. "Just what in the heck is going on?"
"You have a fever," Sam replied in an accusatory voice. Jack eyed her, wondering at that tone, but not really feeling up to getting into it.
"Uh…Carter…where are my clothes?" He wasn't sure of it, but he thought that she might have blushed a bit at his question.
She gestured towards the clothing laid out carefully by the fire. "Sorry, Sir, they aren't quite dry yet."
"Ah…yes. You know, Carter, that was a really bad idea."
Sam looked up at this statement and replied somewhat defensively, "What, trying to keep you from freezing to death?"
"No," he said weakly, closing his eyes again, "I meant taking a winter dip in the lake."
He stayed conscious long enough for her to get him to drink some water and take some meds to lower his fever, but by nightfall, he had dozed off again and he began to get quite delirious. While he mostly just tossed and turned, trying to get the blankets off of him, he also became quite agitated, yelling for Charlie, seeming to relive his worst moments. Sam had to just sit by, trying to get him to drink water and keep his temperature down with cool cloths.
The delirium just seemed to get worse and worse and by midnight of the third night, even Sam's training seemed to be deserting her. She thought that she could not handle anymore of his raving diatribes, but soon realized that it was even worse when he fell quiet, his breath rattling slowly in his chest. At one point, sitting there in the middle of the night, all alone and feeling completely responsible with nothing but Jack's wheezing filling the silence of the cave, she began to lose it. She kneeled down by Jack and started whispering to him.
"Please, Jack. Just fight, don't give up now. You can't leave me here all alone." Her voice broke over all the unspoken things and she finally let the tears that she had been holding in since she first woke up fall freely. She began mumbling her own sort of litany, "Please Jack, don't leave me. I need you. Please." She wasn't sure how long she had sat there, pleading with him, but late into the night, she felt his hand grab onto her arm. Jack was staring up at her, in what seemed to be a moment of lucidity, his eyes momentarily clear. He softly said her name and pulled her close; and for once, Sam didn't pull away.
Sam woke to the feel of warmth radiating against her back, slowly becoming aware of the feel of an arm wrapped around her waist. She lay still for a moment, unwilling, for once, to think about far-reaching consequences. She instead wondered what had woken her from her slumber. The cave was full of what had become familiar sounds; the hiss and pop of the fire, the faint wheezing coming from the man beside her, and the soft sounds of wind and falling snow outside the opening of the cave. She carefully disentangled herself from Jack's arm and sat up, taking in her surroundings. The fire needed some more wood added, she noted silently.
She turned her attention to her commanding officer. He seemed to be worse again, his face an alarming red color, his breath a weak rasp. The logical soldier in Sam began to steel herself for the seemingly inevitability of being stranded here alone, even as the woman in Sam still clung to hope. She reached across their packs to get more water for Jack when she heard the almost forgotten sound of static and a distant voice. She froze, arm still reaching, breath caught in her throat. Her heart thumping away, she strained her ears and stared disbelievingly at her vest. Her radio sat nestled in the discarded garment. It was the only one left with any battery power at all. They had decided to leave one on at all times, even though they knew the batteries would not last forever. Jack's had died two months earlier, and Sam's was barely hanging on by a thread on the last pair of batteries they possessed. Now, as she stared at the black box blinking benignly at her, it seemed that it had been more than a fool's wish.
After what seemed to be hours to Sam, but couldn't have really been more than 10 seconds, a distant voice came in. "Jack? Sam? Can you hear me?" Sam took a moment to glance back at the motionless man by the fire before she grabbed her jacket and the radio and rushed out into the snow. A silent litany ran through her head, There is still time…there is still time… All she could think of was that voice, and the salvation it could offer the man in the cave who sat on the edge of death.
"Daniel? Please come in!" Her voice was breathless and desperate, but it was music to the ears of the three men standing in a small clearing by the stargate. Daniel gave a brief smile of relief to Teal'c and Jacob before answering.
"Sam, thank God. Are you alright?"
"Yes, I am fine. But, the…General, he's in really bad shape, we need to get him out of here. We are two clicks, 35 degrees southeast of the stargate."
"Got it. Can you manage to head towards us? We only have 65 minutes left in our departure window." Daniel hoped Sam wouldn't ask for an explanation, not only was it still unclear to him, but they really didn't have the time.
"Understood." Sam no longer sounded lost, but had resumed her military demeanor, now that there was a task at hand. The three men trudged into the dense forest as fast as they could, while Sam dashed back into the cave. She glanced around at the area that had become their home for the last five months. There would be no time to collect their belongings and it didn't really seem to matter. Sam grabbed a pack, threw in their weapons and technology. She shrugged into her vest and then turned to bundle Jack into his clothing.
Jack was far too out of it to be of any help and Sam had a hard time managing his dead weight in the snow. Somehow, she hoisted him to his feet and half dragged him away from the cave without a glance back at what had been. Her ribs protested with every step, but she kept putting one foot in front of the other, unknowingly repeating the same desperate flight that Jack had taken four days previously.
She walked nearly half a mile on pure adrenaline and determination when she heard her name on the wind. "Over here!" she yelled, suddenly aware of the stillness of her companion. She laid him down on the ground as she heard the crunch of snow and crashing of brush as their rescuers hurried towards them. Jack's breath came is short gasps. "Jack, just hold on. You were right; they came for us. Just hold on."
He opened eyes burning with delirium and perhaps something else that Sam couldn't, wouldn't identify. He attempted to reach for her. "Sorry…Sam…" he rasped. His eyes closed again, but the grating breath could no longer be heard.
"Jack! No!" Sam grabbed his jacket and uselessly shook him, willing him to keep fighting for each breath. She looked wildly up and screamed for Daniel, Teal'c and her father. Suddenly they were all around her, touching her with warm hands, voices sharp and incomprehensible. Sam was only half aware of what happened next as her exhaustion, both physical and mental, shut down her mind and body. There was a bright light and a soft hum in the air and then strong arms carrying her. After that, there was just blackness.
Sam groaned softly as she awoke, uncertain if she had fallen asleep or if they had given her a sedative. She cracked open her eyes to see Daniel sitting next to her, his forehead creased with worry. He smiled softly at her when he realized she was awake. As everything came back to Sam, she bolted up, looking around her. Daniel's hands stilled her movement and gently pushed her back down.
"Shh…Sam, everything is okay. We are in a ship the Tok'ra lent us." He read the questions in Sam's eyes and cut her off before she could ask them. "Jack's stable for now. Jacob used a hand device to clear his lungs, but he is still very weak. We are going to get him back to the infirmary as soon as possible. We are heading to the closest planet with a stargate, that will get us back in eight hours instead of three days."
Sam settled back, seemingly satisfied with the information. She let out a long breath that she felt like she had been holding for days. It was Daniel's soft hand on her arm and quiet question that finally brought the tears. "Sam…what happened out there?"
Sam just shook her head and let the tears fall as she stared at the ceiling of the Goa'uld vessel. Daniel had rarely, if ever, seen Sam loose her composure and was surprised to find that her weakness unnerved him. Daniel had become accustomed to drawing strength from Sam's unflappable demeanor. She had always taken pride in her strength and had gone to great lengths to stamp out anything that might be seen as weakness for fear they would blame it on the fact that she was a woman. But here, for once, she seemed to be laid bare and Daniel had to wonder what had happened on that planet. Sam's face was wan and she had lost quite a bit of weight. She looked gaunt and tired. Daniel was saved from further musings by the arrival of Jacob, who wordlessly gathered his daughter in his arms and held her close.
An hour or so later, Sam had regained her composure, finally secure in the fact that they had been rescued. She simply had to believe that they would get to the infirmary in time and that they could clear up Jack's infection. She hugged her father one last time and then got up to get her bearings in the ship. It was of standard Goa'uld design, the same kind she had been in numerous times. She had been laying in the cargo hold. Jack was stretched out on the other side of the room, with Daniel sitting by his side. Sam quickly glanced away, finding it too difficult to think about him at the moment. Jacob must have noticed the look on her face, because he considered her for a long moment before squeezing her arm and reassuring her that he would be okay. Sam simply smiled, even as the gesture felt like it would break her face into a million pieces.
Sam turned towards the front of the hold where Teal'c was piloting the ship. He glanced up at her as she collapsed into the other chair.
"SamanthaCarter, it is good to see you again." His face, though stoic as usual, betrayed to Sam his worry and his relief at finally finding them.
Sam nodded and began to obediently eat the food Jacob insisted she eat. "You're skin and bones," he observed.
"Well, Dad, I was stuck on a planet for five months with limited supplies, not to mention a blizzard that didn't want to let up."
The raised eyebrows of both men did not go unnoticed by Sam. "What?"
"You say that five months have passed since you first traveled through the gate."
"Yes, Teal'c, five months. I don't think that we went quite crazy enough to lose track of time completely."
A look passed between Jacob and Teal'c. Sam was beginning to lose patience, aided by an increasingly throbbing headache. "Does this have something to do with why the stargate wouldn't work?"
"Teal'c, bring up a visual of the solar system the planet was in." Teal'c nodded and prompted the ship to bring up the proper image.
"If you remember, Sam, you were having a hard time getting a lock on the planet. You did finally manage to get through, but the wormhole was only stable for under two hours. The wormhole collapsed before Teal'c and Daniel could get through. They tried for two days, but were unsuccessful at getting another wormhole to connect. Meanwhile, they had managed to get a hold of me and I offered to fly them to the specified planet to see if we could figure out what was going on. When we finally got here, this is what we found." Jacob gestured up at the screen. Sam looked up to see an image of a one-star solar system with three planets circling it. This in itself was not too interesting or different than anything else Sam had seen, what was amazing was the orange pool that engrossed the entire solar system.
"What…" The normally verbose Sam was too drained and too surprised to put into words what she was wondering.
Jacob seemed to understand, however, as he shook his head and said, "We don't know what that substance is. It is unlike anything we have encountered before. It seems to be some sort of liquid-gas and is most likely what caused all of our problems." He pointed out the orbit of the planet furthest from the sun. "This is the planet that you were on. You will notice that the planet's orbit actually barely leaves the substance at one point here. We hypothesize that this is where the planet was when you gated in. The planet's orbit must have taken it inside the cloud once again right after you made it there, which interfered with the lock afterwards."
Sam nodded, processing all of the information. "But why would it cause problems? Matter of any kind does not interfere with the creation of wormholes. The only thing that would really block the establishment of a stable event horizon would be…" She trailed off, eyes widening.
"Time," Jacob supplied. "Somehow the substance creates a time-space bubble inside of which time travels at a different rate, and the difference is enough to disallow the creation of a stable wormhole."
Tael'c and Jacob could both see the wheels spinning in Sam's head. Jack had always said that she was the only person he knew that you could actually see thinking. She seemed to be running through the probabilities of such an event and how it would affect the programming and function of the stargate. After about 10 minutes of silent musing, she glanced up at the two men regarding her. "How long was it for you?"
Jacob glanced up at the map again. "During the time you were on the planet, it completed one half of its orbit. Here, on the other side, the planet nearly breaks out of the substance again, enough for us to grab you both in the ship and take off again. We had to be quick, however, we didn't want to risk getting stuck on that planet for another half rotation and the planet was nearly back in when we got here." He looked at Sam again, watching her process this information. "From what you have said and what we have observed, inside the cloud it took five months to orbit halfway around the sun. To us, it was much shorter."
Sam looked him steadily in the eyes, "How long?"
Jacob sighed, "To us, Sam, you have only been gone six days."
Upon returning to the SGC, the doctor had confined Jack and Sam to the Observation Room for quarantine regulations as they had both been living on a strange planet for months, as least as far as they had perceived. They couldn't be sure what strange bugs they could be carrying. Daniel decided to go to the upper observation room to keep Sam company. At least they could talk through the speaker system; being stuck in a room alone with a comatose Jack couldn't be all that entertaining or healthy. Jack had yet to regain even a moment's consciousness, and even though no one had said as much, it seemed that the longer he stayed that way, the worse it was. There were brief discussions of brain damage, but the prognosis seemed to be wait and see when or if he wakes up.
As Daniel jogged up the steps to the upper room, he saw that Pete was standing at the window staring down into the room, his posture somewhat rigid and motionless. Someone must have called him and got him a special pass to come in to see Sam. Daniel stepped up beside him, saying "Hey Pete, what's…" Daniel trailed off as he saw the scene below them.
In all honestly, it was innocent enough, one teammate concerned for the welfare of another. After all, SG-1 was as close as people could be, seeing as how they had risked their lives together for more than seven years. But there was just something… intimate about the two people down in that room. Jack was still unconscious with IVs and monitors hooked up to him, but Sam sat in a chair next to his bed. She had taken one of Jack's hands in both of hers and rested her forehead against the clasped hands. She was so still and it looked almost as if she were praying or silently urging Jack to win this fight.
Pete seemed to finally notice Daniel, turning to him with a face completely devoid of emotion. He looked at Daniel for a moment, as if searching for what Daniel thought about what was going on down in that room, but Daniel wouldn't give him anything. Perhaps sensing this, Pete simply walked past Daniel and out of the mountain. Sam never even knew he was there.
The low, rough voice woke Sam from her light slumber on the edge of Jack's gurney. She lifted her head to find herself staring into the blurry eyes of a conscious Jack O'Neill. They sort of looked at each other for a moment, Jack disoriented and Sam disbelieving. Then Jack cracked a smile that really looked like a grimace and said, "Carter, you look like hell."
Sam half laughed, half sobbed in relief, managing to shoot back at him, "Well, you don't look so hot yourself, Sir." Sam looked at Jack for just a moment more, almost reaching out to touch his face, just to assure herself that he was really okay. She struggled with deciding what to say and what not to say. Still undecided, she just gave him an intimate smile and got up to call for the doctor.
The doctor came in, "Ah, I see you are finally awake, General. Nice to have you back." He tried to school his features, but Sam could see relief that the General was finally awake.
"Good to be back, though I don't really remember getting here." He rubbed his hands over his face in a characteristic gesture of fatigue. "In fact, I don't think I remember much after jumping into that stupid lake."
The doctor laughed. "I'm not surprised, General. You had a dangerously high temperature. You practically cooked your brain, so I think a loss of some memories is a small price to pay."
Neither of them noticed how Sam had paled while listening to their discussion and she had schooled her features once again by the time the doctor turned back to her. They were kept in the Observation Room for two more days to clear quarantine and then Jack was moved to a private room for recuperation and Sam was cleared to go home.
Sam didn't seem to want to leave the base. She organized her lab, caught up on the paperwork sitting on her desk and bugged Daniel to give her the readings for the planet for her to analyze. He strictly refused, even at the threat of bodily harm. Daniel was eventually desperate enough to narc Sam out, and so she was summarily called to Jack's sick bed to get an order from her commanding officer.
"Carter, what in the world are you still doing here? Am I going to have to have you thrown off of the base?" Sam didn't reply, though Jack thought she looked near mutinous. He plowed on anyway, noting as he did how thin she looked. He hadn't really noticed their weight loss as it slowly happened during those long months. But now, here, under the harsh florescent lights of the SGC, she looked sallow and ill and he felt a pang of guilt that he couldn't have figured out a way to take better care of them both. Of course, she would kill him for that thought alone. He almost smiled at her imagined anger. "Look," he said in a softer voice, "I know we have both been through a lot and that it may be hard to decompress, but honestly, Carter, you still look like hell. I know that you have vacation time, take some days, relax." He remembered with a pang the anguish on her face that day he found her with her engagement ring. "Go see Pete."
Sam had looked sharply at him and Jack mistook it as a warning to not talk about her personal life. "Don't make me make that an order," Jack said, closing his eyes and feigning fatigue to get her of his room before he changed his mind.
And so, Sam made her decision and finally left the base, returning to her dark house and sorting through her stack of mail. Once every inane chore had been completed, she still felt restless, confused and, if she was being honest with herself, devastated. It was hard to believe that with everything that had happened, only ten days had passed since she was last in her home. To her it felt alien, far too open and quiet. She was also not used to being alone, which was kind of funny seeing as how she was stranded on a planet with only one other living person. Now she stood in her house, knowing that there were probably a dozen people within screaming distance and yet she felt completely and utterly alone.
Jack's words still echoed in her head, cold and empty, "Go see Pete." And so she went, seeking whatever solace she could find. When Pete opened his door at her knock, all he saw was the woman he loved, inconsolable and looking like hell. He guided her in to his home, all other things forgotten.
Sam stayed at Pete's for a week, sleeping late, eating a lot of food and generally letting Pete take care of her. Pete had managed to finally convince himself that Sam was merely recovering from being stranded in the wilderness, separated from her friends and family. After all, it was to him that she had come to recover no matter what he thought he saw.
After a week off, Sam returned to the SGC and SG-1 returned to active duty. To Sam, it felt good to get back to her standard routine and being with Teal'c and Daniel again felt right. So, SG-1 traveled through the gate, some standard first contact runs and only one run-in with the Goa'uld, where they had been held hostage for less than a day. All in all, nothing out of the ordinary. Everything at the SGC seemed to have fallen back into pattern, at least as much of one as there ever was.