"...and really, some of the writing in the temple is absolutely fascinating. SG-17 went back there and caught a lot of it on video. It seems as if their civilization evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the slave worlds..."

If hell had been the cave--the nightmare--heaven was sitting on Cheyenne Mountain's grassy face staring westward in hope of a sunset, or it was damn close.

Janet hadn't yet approved him leaving the base, but persuasive argument had convinced her to let him out of the infirmary--with an escort, of course. And after some more tricky negotiating and clever semantics work from Daniel, she'd agreed that carting some lawn chairs up onto the Mountain itself wouldn't technically be leaving the base, and not long after had found him sitting on the slopes with his team and a cooler of doctor-approved snacks. (She'd personally gone through to make sure he hadn't bribed Daniel into sneaking in anything illicit.) At the moment he, Carter and Teal'c were paying various levels of incomplete attention to Daniel as he went on about P3R-something something whatever, the planet where all this had begun.

No one had asked what he'd been through, and he hadn't told. Enough that he had the memories, that they'd joined the parade of images behind his eyelids.

Carter comatose. Carter with a head wound. Carter with a staff blast boiling away the skin of one shoulder...

He blinked at the sun, pushing the thoughts away. These at least were familiar demons. A new death had entered his thoughts and set up camp, but the slideshow was nothing new. And at the end of the day--the final accounting--Carter was still alive. As was Daniel. As was Teal'c.

As was he.

"Jack?"

He glanced over. "...yeah, sorry," he said. "You lost me back at 'absolutely fascinating.'"

In a very select set of circumstances, Daniel was more astute than he looked. "You all right?"

He could understand their concern--he'd felt it before. The nervous tics, sidelong glances to establish a team member was really there, the silent escort just to be around them, to catch them should they fall. But he felt good--better than he had in a long time.

They were all alive. So very, very alive.

"I'm fine, Daniel," he groused. "You're worse than Janet, except you don't try to poke me full of holes."

"Yes, well," Daniel started, and evidently couldn't figure out how to continue. He trailed off.

"Yes. Well." Jack fished another bottle from the cooler and focused a good-natured annoyance at Janet. "Non-alcoholic beer," he said, twisting off the cap and flicking it down toward the base entrance below. "The paragon of pointless."

"The quintessence of the questionable?" Daniel offered.

Jack grinned, getting into the game. "The definition of daft," he said, and looked to Carter.

"The model of madness?" she guessed.

Jack nodded. "I'll allow it."

"The beau ideal of bizarre," Daniel put in. "The nonpareil of nonsense."

"Leave some for Teal'c," Jack said.

An expectant silence followed. "I have no opinion on the subject," Teal'c said at length.

Jack nodded solemnly. "An omission of opinion."

Carter laughed, and hid it poorly behind her glass-bottle Coke. "Okay."

"We're done," Jack and Daniel said as one.

Suddenly Carter leaned forward. "There!"

Everyone looked.

The wispy clouds to the west glowed a smooth peach, the sky around them deepening toward navy.

Skies the color of dress blues--

"Isn't that something," he said, pushing the thoughts away again.

"Indeed," Teal'c said. "...on Chulak, sunsets such as these were regarded as holidays. Families would come together on hilltops to enjoy them."

"I can imagine," Carter said. The peach had spread, vivid plum undertones deepening beneath it. Honey-gold gilded the larger formations, brighter and realer than anything. "...from my analysis, I think that there's something in the makeup of Chulak's atmosphere that prohibits--"

"Carter!" Jack said.

She trailed off. "Sorry. It really is beautiful."

"And we are going to sit here, and we are going to bask in the beauty of nature, and until that sun goes down neither you nor Daniel will mention anything having to do with science of any sort. Is that clear?"

Carter smiled. "Yes, sir."

"Good." He leaned back, gesturing with his near-beer. "Because, for the duration of this display, we are going to consider it... magic."

Daniel gave an amused snort. "Or 'magnets'?"

"Same thing."

Around them, the crickets' evening chirps rose to a drone. Jack fought the urge to close his eyes. Against the rustle of the wind, he could hear his teammates breathing.

For a moment he struggled with what to say. There had been a time in Iraq--and he'd forgotten which of those godawful missions it had been, but the moment stayed with him. Somewhere between the blood and the bullets he'd looked up and seen the sunset--a huge, golden sunset in a huge open sky--and for half a second he'd known, just known, that he was gonna be all right.

"Magic," he muttered, low, under his breath.

There were battles left to fight--dangers to be faced, an uncertain future forged. The war was far from over. In another week all this could happen again, or something worse and unexpected--they could all still die on some godforsaken rock, waging a war that couldn't be won. But for the moment they were together, and the sun rolled low in painted clouds. And for the moment, that was enough.


Author's Note: Whoo. If you're reading this I suppose that means you've read through the entire fic. Thanks! I hope you enjoyed it. In that special way we have of enjoying the pain and suffering of others.

Feel you so inclined, I'd love it if you dropped a note to tell me what you liked, what you didn't like, what kept you reading, etc. etc. Feedback is how I improve--and also how I'm motivated to write and post more ;).

A few little tidbits: I had an interesting time with perspectives in this one, especially when it came to names. (Some of you may have noticed that in Jack's sceneds, Carter is referred to as "Carter", in Daniel's she's referred to as "Sam;" Jack is "Jack" to himself and Daniel but "The Colonel" or "O'Neill" to Hammond and Sam... fun, fun.

A bunch of little clues/discontinuities were supposed to serve as subtle hints in the cavern--for example, by Season 7 Teal'c was on Tretonin and Junior wouldn't have been around to get ripped in half. At the end of Ch.2 Jack falls asleep in Carter's cave and at the beginning of Ch.3 he wakes up in the main run, etc. Those were fun to do.

Next up is (I think) a braintic I've been toying with involving the Asgard, the Ancients, and a Goa'uld named Ammit. And copious Daniel, and possibly Zen koans. Assuming it gets written, I hope to see you there.

Thanks again!

--magi