The Stargate sprung into life, spraying the gray subterranean walls with dancing light.
Jack stood a few paces away with Teal'c, who was once again wearing the soft brown robes that never quite seemed to fit him. But Jack understood why Teal'c continued to don them. The weight of responsibility for a fledgling society was something that Jack understood far too well these days.
"Don't be a stranger, T," Jack said in farewell.
Teal'c didn't even have the decency to feign confusion. Instead, he turned to Jack with great seriousness, perhaps seeing beyond Jack's flippant words.
"We know each other quite well, O'Neill, and could never be strangers," Teal'c observed softly.
There was only one thing Jack could say in answer to that.
"Indeed," he agreed.
Teal'c allowed the smallest smile to quirk his lips. "I will return in a few days time."
Jack nodded, pushing his hands into his pockets. "I'll be here."
After the barest inclination of his head in acknowledgement, Teal'c stepped through the wormhole and disappeared.
It was a familiar feeling to watch his friend whisked away in a puddle of light. But at least this time, he had no doubts Teal'c would return.
Daniel was one of the only people to choose to remain in the underground facility, even as most people began to build on the surface. Jack couldn't be sure how much of that decision, as Daniel claimed, was because the controlled environment and lack of sunlight were better for the artifacts. Jack suspected it also had something to do with the familiarity of the space. Maybe sometimes late at night with his mind distracted by one puzzle or another, Daniel could convince himself that he was still at the SGC. That none of this had ever happened.
Daniel's refusal to let go didn't worry Jack. In a strange way, it made him feel better. Because it was Daniel, and Jack still had a feeling he could do anything. In a way, this stubbornness just meant that he wasn't completely broken and that there was still some Daniel left in there somewhere.
"Quit it," demanded Daniel, his voice breaking into Jack's thoughts.
"What?" Jack asked, still absently leaning against the door jamb.
Daniel didn't even bother to look up from the stone tablet he was carefully inspecting. "I can feel you hovering, Jack."
Amused, Jack took a few more steps into the room and began flipping through the nearest book, much to Daniel's annoyance. He snatched the book out of range of Jack's reach, only taking the extra time to send a glare in Jack's direction.
"Well, I don't mean to disturb the inner workings of your laboratory, Dr. Jackson" Jack said with mock offense. "I just thought you might want to hear about this amazing new discovery."
Daniel actually looked up from his work at Jack's words, but he still appeared dubious as if he sensed what was coming.
"And what is that?" he asked resignedly.
"There is this place upstairs that has sunlight and fresh air. I believe it is called 'outdoors.' You might want to check it out sometime."
Daniel rolled his eyes, hefted a dramatic sigh and went back to his work.
"Well, I tried," Jack said with a shrug. "But you'd better at least come up for some dinner or you'll have bigger problems on your hands than me. The most frightening force in the universe: a pissed-off Carter."
Daniel snorted, but waved Jack off. "I know, I know. I'll be there," he promised.
And Jack knew he would be. Daniel never missed the evening meal. They always gathered at the end of the day. It was their new unspoken ritual and Jack wondered if it was some sort of pledge to stick together. Maybe they just still needed the reassurance.
"Jack!" Daniel exclaimed and Jack realized he was still staring.
Jack threw up his hands and pushed off the door frame. "I'm going, I'm going!" he said with a smile.
It was almost dusk when Jack finally stumbled upon Sam in probably the last place he expected. She was sitting on a rock a short distance away from a partially finished home on the edge of a small body of water.
Jack was acutely aware that this was the first time he had been completely alone with her in the weeks since Earth. He was annoyed to find that he didn't quite know what to say to her. So he just settled down on the rock next to her.
She turned and smiled softly at him and Jack felt something inside him ease. "Hi," she said.
Jack returned the smile. "Hey. Whatcha doing?"
"Nice to know some things don't change," Jack quipped.
Sam rolled her eyes, but otherwise ignored the comment. "I think the crops are going to do well."
"Yeah. Everything seems to be working out."
"People seem…happy," Sam said awkwardly.
Jack caught something in her tone that made him look at her more closely. "You think they shouldn't be?"
Sam shrugged and looked away from him. She stared at the water for long moments. "This isn't Minnesota," she eventually said. "It won't ever be."
"No, it's not," Jack softly confirmed, wondering where exactly she was going with this. "Does it matter?"
"I don't know," Sam said honestly, turning to pin him with her gaze. "Does it?"
Her eyes were curious and slightly uncertain and Jack got the feeling that she was asking about more than just the cabin. He reached out and took her hand in his, his fingers gently tracing the lines on her palm.
"I don't think there is any shame in being happy," Jack eventually said. "There's nothing wrong with living our lives."
Sam's hand curled around his fingers in response. "I know," she said softly, her eyes warm. "I just needed to hear you say it."
And it was only at that moment he realized she'd been waiting for him to give her some sort of sign that this was really going to happen with them, a sort of permission to stop simply surviving and start living.
"I brought you something," Sam said before Jack could recover enough to say anything.
For the first time, Jack noticed a package carefully balanced next to her. She pulled her hand from his and offered the box to Jack, a nervous smile playing at her lips. "Consider it your first housewarming gift…Jack."
Jack looked at her in surprise and carefully lifted the top off the box. Securely nestled inside were two fishing reels. Jack stared at them for long moments, not sure what to say.
"The rest of the gear is up at the cabin," Sam said, filling the awkward silence. "I just thought…."
Jack snapped the lid shut, cutting her off. Sam had to have thought of this before they left Earth. Jack himself hadn't really taken the time to think of personal objects in those last days. He couldn't quite believe she'd done it and he had no idea how to express exactly how much her thoughtfulness meant to him.
"Jack?" Sam asked uncertainly, when he still hadn't said anything.
Jacked reached for her hand again, squeezing her fingers tight. "Thank you," he said hoarsely with as much raw sincerity as he could muster.
"Sure," Sam said softly.
Jack finally looked up to see Sam sitting in the fading light with his new home on the shores of a pond behind her. She was right. This wasn't Minnesota. But maybe it could be…something.
Jack almost reverently put the package down and then pulled Sam closer, leaning in to kiss her for the first time in weeks. Her mouth was as sweet and warm as he remembered and she unhesitatingly leaned into him, her hand threading into his hair. When he finally pulled back he smiled softly at Sam, carefully studying her face.
He wondered if one day she would be able to pick up a piece of technology without dark shadows clouding her eyes. Or if he could forgive himself for abandoning his people. If he could, somehow, be the one to make her happy.
Jack didn't know. But he could always hope.
Jack brought Sam's palm up to his lips. He felt the pulse of her heartbeat through the softness of her skin and when she met his gaze, he saw the beginnings of acceptance shining in her eyes.
None of them had forgotten and maybe they never would, but as Jack sat gently memorizing Sam's skin inch by inch in the alien forest, he was glad that they were at least given the chance to try.
And maybe one day they would both come to see that this wasn't an ending at all, but simply another beginning.