Daniel deeply regretted the lack of light in the little tent. He wanted her to see his face, to be able to read his expression. "I love you, Sam," he said. He hoped his voice was enough to carry the depth of feeling behind the statement.
She reached out and touched his face and he turned his mouth to her palm and kissed it. He shifted their positions so that she was partly beneath him. He kissed her eyelids, her forehead, her cheeks, and then he feasted on her mouth. He went no further, but dropped his head to bury his face in her neck. She reached up and stroked his hair. She was surprised to find that she loved its silky strands falling around her. "Why did you make me wait so long to hear that?" she asked. She meant to tease, but she just sounded hurt.
"I'm afraid that you… that when we get back, you'll realize that I'm different and that you don't love me any more." He sighed. "That's probably bullshit, Sam. I don't understand myself at all. Maybe I'm afraid of that. Maybe I'm just having trouble loving any more. You really ought to run in the other direction."
"Do you remember when we watched Paul Newman and I can't remember her name, the actress he was married to, Joanne Woodward, maybe, in "The Long Hot Summer," and he tells her something like 'You can dye your hair, you can change your name, and you can buy a bus ticket for as far as you can go, but you can't get away from me.' I told you that you'd better watch out, because unlike Newman's con man, I'm a trained professional and I will find you."
He laughed and said, "That sounds a little stalkerish."
Sam said, "Whatever it takes. You belong to me." She wrapped her arms around him. "And, well I was physically attracted to you before, but it was more the consequence of loving you rather than starting with lust that led to love."
"Was it lust first with Jack?" Daniel asked. He was just curious.
She made a hissing sound. "Pretty much. But let me get to my point. The way you look right now… Let's just say I've been walking around in a constant state of arousal. This rule of yours that we don't have sex until we leave here, until everything's back to normal, is making me completely crazy." She asked hopefully, "No chance that you've changed your mind on that?"
"No chance. Honey, you really should go back to your tent. It'll be very awkward for you if we fall asleep and don't wake up in time." He rolled off her and she reluctantly threw the blanket back, sharing one long last intimate kiss with him first.
The next morning, they broke camp about an hour after dawn to head toward Soplo and the Stargate, hidden in a cavern deep in that district. Enrico, Dovio, and a handful of others were going to go with them to the end of the forest to provide an additional advantage in negotiating the forest. They were going to leave in an hour, but Jack decided that he wanted a second chance to try to get the group he had worked with the previous day to understand the finer points of what he called the "hit and scoot," a fast attack whose point is to grab what you can and then get out as fast as possible. When deployed as a surprise move on the enemy, it can leave them confused and striking back in all directions. Finally the rest of the group went and stood, fully loaded with their packs, in plain view, and he gave it up and joined them.
They reapplied the toka salve which was much less noticeable than before. After constantly being surrounded by others exuding the odor for days, Milligan theorized that they'd burned out some key olfactory gland. One of the other men wisecracked that he hoped he didn't find skunks attractive when he got home. He said it would make road kill even more depressing than it already was. His lightheartedness was reflective of the general attitude held by everyone but Daniel, glad as they were to be heading home. He, by contrast, almost felt as if his steps were getting heavier as the miles to their destination passed. He missed the water, he missed his boat, he missed the simple and undemanding life he had built for himself. Realistically, he knew that even if he stayed here, he could no longer resist joining the rebellion. Jem's death had seen to that.
The value of the salve was proven when they stumbled on a scene of carnage late in the day. The campfire was still smoldering with a burned mess in the bottom of the iron pot hung over it. Blood and gore covered the camp site with bits of human bone and shreds of cloth all that was left. Dovio turned white and hurriedly walked away. Daniel saw Sam follow him at a discrete distance to make sure he was okay, but she gave him the privacy he craved. She later told him he had thrown up until he had the dry heaves. Enrico found a leather pouch. Daniel investigated it and discovered papers that confirmed this had been a party of the Margave's men. "If you don't respect the forest, this is what happens," was Enrico's summary. They took the time to scrape out a shallow grave and put the remains in it though no one was inspired to speak any words over it.
Their route was a bit circuitous because their guides continued to maximize the time spent wading in streams. Daniel found himself walking next to Jack as they squished along after fording yet another one. "Not crazy about the wading," Jack groused.
"Something else you might not be too crazy about, but I've got to ask you Jack," Daniel said.
"This is going to a feelings conversation?" Jack asked warily.
"Actually no. More like fact finding. I've come to the conclusion that the memo that Clanton's aide showed me and the things that were said to me about where you stood on the plague incident were manufactured. That isn't all that implausible when I think of the other things that power hungry virago was responsible for. I am having a little more trouble understanding what I saw as far as you and Sam. I swear I believe the two of you, but I need to understand how I could be getting it wrong."
Jack shot him a sideways look. "Tell me what you think you saw."
"After what I was shown, I was heart sick and furious. It seemed incontrovertible proof that you had betrayed me. I called Sam and got no answer. God I needed her. I checked my messages and she had left me one saying that she was going to try to go and talk to you and see if there wasn't something else you could do to intercede for me. I didn't much like the idea of her with you, as angry as I was, not to mention the fact that I was more than a little jealous since she'd been with you for awhile before we got together. I went over to your place to get her out of there and have it out with you. The door was unlocked and I just walked in. I figured if I knocked, you might choose to ignore me. There was music playing, a couple of glasses on the coffee table, and various articles of clothing strewn around. I went toward the bedroom and saw you with a blonde woman. I didn't see her face but the hair, the body, it sure looked like Sam. You had your hands in her hair, your eyes shut. I got out of there as fast as I could. You were in the place where you don't notice anything else and I doubt if you ever knew I was there."
Jack actually blushed. Daniel couldn't believe it. "I had just come home with a woman I picked up in a bar. Sam was there while I was gone and left a note under the door. This is pathetic and I would ask you to never tell Sam about it."
Daniel looked at him puzzled. "It wasn't a blow up doll, Jack, I know that."
"Very funny." Jack sighed. "Look I picked this woman up because she looked a hell of a lot like Sam. I was having a really hard time dealing with having lost her. It's a crummy reason to be with a woman and it made me a heel afterwards, although she was only looking for a good time and probably wasn't particularly damaged. Still, I've never been into being anybody's Mr. Goodbar."
Daniel laughed. "I never would have come up with that explanation in a million years. You were so casual about the whole thing that Sam's feelings were actually a little hurt I think. She didn't want you to suffer, but she didn't want your reaction to the break up to be, 'whatever,' which is what you managed to pull off."
"I'm good," Jack said. "Do you know that there was actually a joke t-shirt some people put together – something like 'The Many Faces of General Jack O'Neill.' They were all pictures of me looking exactly the same, but with different emotions as captions."
Daniel laughed and suddenly he couldn't stop. He had to leave the trail and let the rest of the party pass him by as he kept laughing, holding his sides. At first, Jack just stared at him and then he joined in. They fell in with the tail end of the party so that they wouldn't hold anything up, but their behavior was completely inappropriate for a party in hostile territory. They still couldn't help it. Finally, they subsided to occasional chuckles. Sam had joined them by then. "You going to tell me what this is about?" she asked.
"No," Daniel said. Jack shook his head. "But," Daniel said, "Colonel Doctor Samantha Carter, I do really, really love you and ask you to forgive me for every crummy accusation I've made." A huge grin broke over her face and she further compromised correct military behavior by giving him a kiss in front of God and country.
Jack whispered, "You do realize that this whole story will be told often enough that there won't be a man or woman in the SGC who hasn't heard it."
"Yeah," Daniel said. "Ask me if I care."
Late in the day, Enrico, who had been scouting ahead, came running back to them. "Margave's men up ahead coming back this way," he gasped out. Jack looked at Daniel. Daniel said, "I'd love to ambush the bastards, but we don't know how many of them there are, or more to the point how many of their fellows are in the vicinity or might come looking for them. The price is too high."
"Good decision," Jack said. "Command requires you forget your feelings. I know you are still in the throes of blood lust over your friend." He clapped Daniel on the back. Daniel and the SG personnel all immediately got off the path and hid. Enrico and his companions worked their way rapidly backwards, checking for any sign of their passage that they had overlooked in their routine track covering actions. Fortunately they had forded a stream not a quarter of a mile back, so they did their job rapidly.
Ten minutes later, a long file of men passed them. Daniel counted over 30. It was entirely possible they weren't even after him since they were moving toward Inova instead of away from it. Some of them looked like thugs, but many just looked like men who had been drawn into this work for a variety of reasons. Daniel really didn't like looking the enemy in the face like this. The old Daniel found it too easy to be empathetic and too hard to hate.
It was three days later before they reached the end of the forest. They bid farewell to Enrico, Dovio, and the others. Dovio shyly produced a small bunch of wildflowers, a little wilted from being hidden in his shirt for a mile or two, but still pretty. He bowed and handed them to Sam, who caused a huge blush on the boy's face by kissing him on the cheek. Daniel noticed that Jack had not joined in the farewells. He was looking at him in puzzlement when Jack came to him, hugged him, and said, "Time to return the favor. I left you on Abydos. You need to leave me here."
Daniel realized he wasn't completely surprised. Jack had seemed to gain energy back at the camp. He had come here to put a coda to his last career. Now he had a new one. "Be sure. You're giving up a lot."
"Not really. Nothing except my friends. Somehow I think you'll be back."
Jack turned to the rest of the group and announced, "I've decided to stay here."
Mitchell and Sam both asked the same question Daniel had. Teal'c asked nothing. He seemed to instantly understand. Milligan and the others accepted this as Jack's decision. Jack had one more chore. He produced two pieces of paper. "Mitchell, will you take these to my ex-wife, Sara and to Hank Landry. I think they're the only ones left who need a personal farewell." Cam nodded and carefully placed the two letters in an inside pocket.
He took out one more piece of paper. "This document needs as many of you to sign as witnesses as care to. It gives the right to use my home, my boat, and my fishing cabin to Daniel and Sam until I come back. If I don't, they become their property. You were never too crazy about the boat before Daniel, but I think you're going to need it now."
"Jack, you don't need to do this," Daniel said.
"This feels way too much like a last will and testament to me," Sam protested.
"Too damn bad. I'm doing it anyway." Daniel accepted the document which ended up with the signatures of everyone present.
Jack said, "Let me be the one to walk off and not the other way around. Somehow it seems easier."
There was an uneasy silence over the group for the rest of the journey. They were exposed in the open grassland and felt vulnerable. All of them were preoccupied, on some level, by the turn of events with Jack. Daniel gave command to Cam. He had no natural advantage here and his heart was too heavy to really function in that role in any case.
They reached the gate without seeing anyone except two parties in the distance that never came any closer than the horizon. Daniel felt like he was leaving an empty world. Mitchell dialed the coordinates and the team began to go through. Daniel hung back until only Mitchell, Sam, and he were left. "You're next," Cam said.
Daniel wanted to run in the opposite direction. He looked at Sam, felt her hand clasped in his, and tried to summon something, he wasn't sure what, from deep down inside. She quoted, "Whither thou goest I go. If you want to stay, I'll stay with you."
"There are too many lives at stake," he said.
"Maybe the right quote is MacArthur's," Cam said.
The three said in unison, "I shall return" and went through the gate.