Summary: 'Happily ever after' isn't what they thought it would be…
Classifications: Angst, S/J Relationship
Spoilers: Minor Season 9 speculation
Disclaimer: The characters mentioned in this story are the property of Showtime and Gekko Film Corp. The Stargate, SG-1, 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: Okay, here's another darkish one, but I thought, 'what if they got together and it wasn't perfect?' This is my answer.
Three months in and she begins to request the dangerous missions. Part of him hopes she doesn't come back. He can't quite work up the energy to be appalled. He wonders when exactly it had become easier for one of them to disappear rather than admit the obvious: they had made a mistake.
At first there had been the thrill of once illicit things. There had certainly been desire in those early days after his retirement. But then even sex had become nothing more than another obligation. Another aspect of their lives built on expectation, ruled by the weight of responsibility for what they had kept burning for so long.
Military regulations had just been replaced by new unspoken ones.
Now there are only silent meals, late nights in the lab and perfunctory weekly couplings in the dark. He pretends that he doesn't see through her empty excuses for working too much and she studiously ignores the way he seems to fade a little more each day. They both wonder in the back of their minds if this was really what they had sacrificed so much for.
When they are in public their hands tangle with false intimacy and they smile at comments about the romance of it all. No one seems to see through the façade, but he imagines that no one really wants to. Everyone wants to believe that someone has the fairy tale. He wonders if everyone is always pretending. Maybe there really wasn't such a thing as happiness. Or happily ever after.
Yet neither of them can simply admit defeat. There is too much history for that. Too many people watching and too many fantasies kindled over the years. Stubbornness and a refusal to believe that they could have been so wrong keep them together, even as he begins to drink and she steadily becomes more reckless, subconsciously searching for an out and taking Daniel and Teal'c along for the ride.
She's been gone a week, four days overdue, when the dreams begin. He's watching her slowly fade after Nirtti's treatment. She's being hunted by a super soldier. Her screams echo in his mind and he dreams he can feel her blood, warm and sticky, on his hands. When the phone rings he wakes with a start, the sheets drenched in his sweat and empty bottles tumbling to the floor with discordant thuds. It's Landry, letting him know she made it back safe with just some minor scrapes.
He hangs up the phone and silently packs. He still cares enough to admit defeat and run so she won't have to anymore.
She lingers in the locker room much longer than necessary and feels the weight of Daniel's eyes on her back. Daniel always watches them when they are together, noting every fractured kiss and plastic smile. She can tell he longs to say something, but knows he won't. He tried talking to her once, asked her what was going on. She finds it easier to lie to him than she should. Maybe because she knows he can so easily see through them.
Daniel seems to think it all boils down to one easy question. 'Do you love him?' he asks. She just walks away, wondering what that has to do with anything.
By the time she gets home, he's long gone. No residual heat clings to the abandoned sheets. There's no note, but she doesn't expect one. She knows he won't be coming back. All she can feel is relief. She doesn't tell Daniel or Teal'c, but she is sure that they know. She doesn't move out of his house, but sleeps in his bed every night.
When she thinks of him, she tries to feel anger or hate. But she finds the complete absence of emotion more disturbing in the end. So she shrugs her shoulders and buries the failure under more work. She tries not to think of the stupid black widow curse. He wasn't dead.
She just killed him in a different way.
Daniel's lab wall is slowly filling with bright postcards from all over the globe. She never asks, but she knows Daniel hangs them for her. She slowly tracks his movements over the world, wishing for something that she finds herself incapable of putting into words.
He runs for weeks, not slowing down enough to even think until he finds himself in Giza. Under the shadow of the great pyramids he finally lets his mind consider her. He wonders when they stopped talking only to realize that they had never started.
On the steps of the Forbidden City in Beijing he lets himself question whether there had ever been love to begin with. His only response is fleeting images of shared glances and forbidden moments.
He loses himself in the anonymous hustle of Tokyo and is irritated that none of these people know how much they owe to her or to him. How much they had given up.
He thinks maybe they waited too long.
Watching colorful masses of pilgrims entering an ancient Hindu temple in Orissa, he decides that he's tired of questions and even wearier of excuses.
Maybe it was just never meant to be.
Her work begins to slip, but at first no one says anything. As the months pass, though, it becomes more than simply turning in reports incomplete or late. It is only a matter of time until Teal'c feels the need to say something about her lapses in the field. He thinks it is a betrayal of her, but she doesn't see it that way.
General Landry encourages her to take a vacation, but the thought of his empty house keeps her at work. Eventually the request becomes a demand. She is relieved of duty.
One year to the day of his departure and she finds herself standing in Daniel's lab running her fingers over the careless scrawl on the back of a Malaysian postcard. 'Ask me again,' she says to Daniel.
Daniel observes her for a long moment, taking her hand in his. 'Do you love him?' he asks softly.
She stares at their entwined fingers and she can't quite remember the last time she has felt human contact. She doesn't have an answer for Daniel, but she decides it's time she found one.
She finally catches up with him in a small bamboo hut on a Philippine beach. He's sitting on the porch, repairing a coarse fishing net. Dropping her pack down, she settles next to him. He isn't surprised by her presence.
'Why did you leave?' she asks, wondering now if it was just to see if she would follow.
He is silent for a long time and she begins to wonder if she made a mistake coming after him. She watches his long fingers methodically work the rough fibers of the net. There is a new scar on the back of his left hand, but she decides that she doesn't deserve to ask.
'I couldn't watch us destroy each other,' he finally answers, the brutal honesty of the comment jarring them both.
She is surprised by the open assessment, a bright signal of the end of the make-believe world they had created. No more pretending. She nods once in acceptance of these terms before taking her things inside the hut and settling into a spare cot in the back.
They circle each other widely for days, not speaking, but falling into familiar patterns of working side by side. Back to where everything had begun. She slips and calls him 'sir' but finds long forgotten comfort in the simple word. She wonders when exactly 'Sam' and 'Jack' had become profanities.
The days pass in a blur of ocean and sand. She takes long walks, watching the local children race boats and climb banana trees with sinuous grace. She clumsily learns to help with the nets, spending a moonless night on a fishing platform in the middle of the ocean. With the hard planks under her back and his soft breathing mingling with the sound of slapping water, she feels more at home than she can ever remember.
He seems to have accepted her presence with ease, almost as if he had been waiting for her. His wariness is only evident in the studious way he avoids touching her and the way his eyes slide from hers if a gaze is held too long. He's wondering if this is an end or a beginning, constantly gauging his emotions, unsure of what he wants to find. She knows this because she is doing the same thing.
He teaches her to catch darting silvery fish with her hands during the evening low tide. There is the feel of wet sand between her toes and simple triumph in a deed that did not demand her intellect or have galactic significance. The slimy wriggling of the creatures against her palms makes her want to squeal like a child. She is unaware of the bright smile that has stolen across her face until she finds him staring at her like a man seeing a ghost.
He disappears for two days. She knows he will come back.
He slips back into the hut one day at dawn. She can feel the weight of his eyes on her slumbering form. He's knows she's awake, but he lets both of them pretend a little bit longer. She's not quite ready to know what he's thinking and maybe he's not quite ready to let her.
'I was afraid,' she admits a few nights later as they sit on the platform in the middle of the sea.
'Was?' he asks quietly without rancor.
'Am,' she corrects.
'Me, too,' he says.
The confessions are the beginning of what had been missing before.
It takes a long time and they get it wrong most of the time. More than once he disappears, only to return a few days later to confess what exactly has unsettled him this time. She even makes it as far as the Manila airport once herself before turning back when she hears the call for her flight.
Neither of them has ever been good at letting someone in.
They slowly build a list of everything that has led them to fail so spectacularly. They realize that they had forgotten to learn how to be friends. Sex had trumped intimacy. Dreams had overwritten reality. Sam had erased Carter. Jack had remained a stranger.
Three months on a beach halfway around the world from their pasts and they finally accept themselves as flawed beings. They learn to turn aside expectation, recognizing that they have nothing to prove to anyone. They are allowed to be wrong.
When, for the first time since he fled Colorado, he gingerly touches her hand, there is no electric thrill. There is only warmth and affection, and the steady grace of understanding.
It is more than enough.
Daniel picks them up at the airport, his eyes silently cataloging their tanned skin and their casual ease with each other that was foreign, but somehow right.
She knows that if Daniel asks her his question again, that this time she has an answer. It still isn't an easy question, but glancing at the man at her side, she knows that it makes everything worth the effort.
They still might fail, but at least this time they would do it with both eyes open.
They would do it together.