Disclaimer: Stargate SG-1 and its characters are the property of Stargate (II) Productions, Showtime/Viacom, MGM/UA, Double Secret Productions, and Gekko Productions. This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. The original characters, situations, and story are the property of the author. This story may not be posted elsewhere without author's consent. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Copyright © September 9, 2007 Maggie Eaton
"The end of all our explorations will be to come back to where we began and discover the place for the first time." -T.S. Eliot
Jack poked randomly at the fire scattering brightly lit embers into the cool air. His eyes followed as they darted upward in a fiery spattering of color against the dark sky. When they had finished their flight and disappeared once again into darkness he rose from his makeshift chair and moved silently across the clearing.
It was a crisp, early autumn and with no threat of inclement weather they had chosen the simplicity of a heavenly canopy over a canvas one. They lay close to the fire, enjoying the security of its brilliance while cuddled in the warmth of their standard issue sleeping bags. A trillion stars sparkled overhead and Jack's eyes frequently flickered upwards bringing a momentary frown to his features as he gazed at the unfamiliar sky. Back home he would recognize every formation; know his location by theirs but here, on this alien world the sky was alien as well.
It was quiet. It had been quiet. Even Teal'c was sleeping on this darker than dark night and only the occasional sound dispelled the serenity of the alien forest. Jack smiled down at his friend and wondered at the changes in the man; once the warrior slave of a Goa'uld master, he was now his sworn enemy, a liberated warrior freed of his symbiote and leading his Jaffa brothers along the same path while learning to enjoy the pleasure of simple things like sleep and ice cream.
The large man moved ever so slightly and Jack reached out to lightly touch his shoulder.
"Sleep." He whispered and was answered with a silent nod that conveyed absolute trust.
Moving slowly he circled the camp and checked on his other companions, they were both sleeping, although he suspected Carter slept must less deeply than Daniel. Completing his rounds, he released a sigh and shifted his weapon then returned to the log they had dragged beside the fire. Gracefully lowering his weight to a sitting position he surveyed the area once more then allowed his eyes to come to rest on Carter.
She was so peaceful. Blond strands fell randomly across her relaxed features as she slept quietly, secure in the knowledge that he was watching over her. Jack smiled as he watched her face contort and relax with the substance of dreams, wondering momentarily what manifestations followed her into sleep and knowing that the last few years of service had provided more than enough fuel for nightmares.
Her lips were moving and he unconsciously fixed his gaze on that gentle movement, watching as she spoke wordlessly; her thoughts unable to penetrate the thick curtain that sleep had woven around her. He smiled as he realized that she looked pissed and momentarily wondered if he was the recipient of that ire. As he continued to watch, her features relaxed and once again she slipped into restful repose.
In the quiet of early morning Jack's thoughts wandered along the timeline of his life, stopping here and there to analyze or enjoy a distant memory, most of which involved the three now sleeping by the fire and the most heart wrenching, as well as the most enjoyable, always included his second in command.
He knew the smell of her favorite perfume, could determine her mood by the food she consumed and sometimes interpret her thoughts with a simple look in her eyes. He had basked in her praise, recoiled at her displeasure and marveled at her intelligence. Time and time again, he had seen her compassion, witnessed her many talents and been struck speechless by the fire in her eyes. They were close, there was no denying it and yet, they were as distant as two people could be. Both dedicated career military, Jack huffed quietly at the thought of associating "dedicated" to his attitude, still, they were both acutely aware of their duties and the regulations they had sworn to uphold; that shared commitment being the instrumentation of their separation. They had encountered the crossroad of personal and professional on many occasions and while reaffirming their admiration, love, even lust for the other, they had chosen to stay their path.
A sense of regret suddenly filled his soul as he watched her. He could see the gentle signs of aging beginning to touch her face; tiny indicators of the years of stress and hardship she had endured. She was still beautiful and their appearance was of little concern to him, it was unavoidable, after all aging was part of life but the method of acquisition was his concern. She should have been safe and pampered; living in a luxurious mansion somewhere but that was not the life she had chosen. Her spirit, her competitive nature and her father's role model had drawn her to be a warrior, protecting not only those closest to her but her entire world. That choice had, thankfully, brought her charging into his life with fire and vinegar. And…she was still here, sleeping peacefully on an alien planet but still alive and for the most part, whole. In his mind and heart, that was all that mattered; having known the means and method of every close call she had survived over the years, a few lines seemed a small price indeed.
And still the feeling of regret surrounded him. Regret of lost opportunity, lazy days that they had never shared and buried emotions that might never be free. She was still relatively young and incredibly strong but time was gaining on him and lately he had come to realize that his days with his team were numbered. Youth had begun to slip away and while not ready for retirement, change was inevitable. He allowed himself another small sigh and then admonished himself not to dwell.
"You're not dead yet, O'Neill."
He whispered the words quietly then lowered his eyes to stare at the ground between his feet. When he looked up again, concerned blue eyes locked onto his. He raised his eyebrows in a silent question but she simply stared back at him.
"It's ok, Carter, go back to sleep."
She smiled and magically, was ten years younger, causing his own smile to tug at the corners of his lips. Then she nodded but continued to watch him through lowered lashes and a few minutes later, she was sitting down beside him.
"Problem, Sir?" She questioned quietly, mindful of her sleeping teammates.
She frowned slightly then and knowing the look on his face unquestionably indicated concern, she pressed on.
"Maybe I can help…" She offered.
He turned to smile at her and waved one hand through the air to disperse her concern, seeing the worry lines on her face suddenly become more pronounced and her frown deepen as his gesture had the opposite effect intended.
"Oh, you know, just…contemplating man's purpose in the universe, the meaning of life…mortality." He tried to make his voice casual, hoping to still her concern. "Think you can stop time?"
He turned towards her and was horrified to see that she was taking him completely seriously.
"Well, Sir, you know it's dangerous but there are indications, given the proper circumstances and of course, the right equipment we might be able to manipulate the nonspatial continuum …" She stopped speaking suddenly, halting the onslaught of technological explanation that was on the verge of escaping and instead watched him raise his eyes briefly to the stars above their heads before looking back at her. "…but as I said, it's…dangerous."
"Carter. It's ok. I was just kidding."
She nodded her head to indicate she understood but the worry lines didn't disappear and he noticed.
"Really. It's ok." He assured her.
She nodded again but her face didn't change. She stared into his eyes and attempted to read beneath the mask that he wore; searching for the answers that he wouldn't give freely. His eyes quickly changed, softening against her stare, as she watched him. Suddenly she remembered another day when he had stared at her with that same expression, a Goa'uld force field separating them, threatening their lives and forcing buried emotions to the surface. That same tumultuous explosion of emotion attacked her senses as she guessed at his concern. With the gentleness of a butterfly she reached out to him and slid one hand slowly along his thigh, allowing it to come to rest at his knee.
His eyes flickered down at the unexpected touch then returned to hers with slight confusion.
"We've got plenty of time, Sir but…I…I could work on it."
She smiled warmly and then more broadly as his smile quickly matched hers; his hand moving to cover hers and squeezing gently.
"Plenty, you say?"
"Absolutely, Sir. Plenty."
She spoke with the confidence that Jack had long been accustomed to. It was the tone she used when she wanted to reassure him but wasn't at all sure she could actually produce the desired results. He knew it as her defensive instinct and she was currently using it to defend him…against what, he was sure that she wouldn't admit knowing; would in fact say that it didn't matter. He was also sure that she most certainly did know.
"Excellent." He grinned.
Sam chuckled, feeling a moment of relief and turned her hand to squeeze the fingers clutching hers.
"Yes, Sir. You know the Asgard are already working on time manipulation and they'll most certainly make tremendous progress in our lifetime."
There was a long pause before she spoke again.
"You are all right, Sir?"
He heard the concern that had crept back into her voice and knew her mind was still running hundreds of scenarios to account for his uncharacteristic behavior, knowing the general problem but looking for any missed detail that would put rhyme to reason.
"I'm fine, Carter, just thinking of things I'd planned to do and haven't done. You know?"
"Time." He whispered as he stared into the fire. "It's a faceless enemy and a treasured friend. There's never enough….to…" He turned to look into her eyes and she could see love reflected there, as well as concern and a million unasked questions. "…well, you know."
He finished quietly, shrugged his shoulders and looked down, avoiding her eyes and shuttering his emotions with one movement.
"There will be enough, Sir, I promise."
She squeezed his hand, pulling his eyes back to hers and trying to assure him as he studied her quietly. There was a hint of sadness in his eyes, replacing the smiling assurance that normally sparkled within the chocolaty globes and her heart ached as she realized she was the reason for that sadness. He wasn't like this; he didn't cling to her hand or allow her to see his frail human side. It troubled her.
Finally, in almost a whisper, he spoke again.
"What if there isn't?"
That simple question tore at her heart, sending ripples of pain throughout her being. He stared at her in earnest, needing her reassurance and yet, unable to accept it.
"Then I'll fix it." She stated simply. "I'll…I don't know…go back in time and change something."
He straightened beside her, eyebrows rising towards his hairline; eyes wide open in surprise as he considered her answer.
"You'd do that?" He questioned.
She nodded as she answered. "I would."
"Could you?" He asked skeptically.
There was only a momentary hesitation before she answered.
"Absolutely." Her voice was laced with false confidence and there was another long pause before she smiled at him again. "Eventually."
"Well, no need to worry then."
He looked down at their entwined hands, his thumb rubbing the back of her hand as slight embarrassment swept across his chiseled features. Then he squeezed her fingers lightly and regretfully, pulled away looking for an immediate use for his now empty hands.
He was smiling and she couldn't help but smile back at the brilliance that now adorned his features. Bolstered by their bond and her reassuring words, the devilish gleam had returned to his eyes. The storm had passed, he was back in control. Nothing had changed but their faith in each other would continue to sustain them. Faith and time.
"You'll wake Daniel, Sir." She warned.
"Oh, well, he has to get up anyway and besides….you said we've got plenty of time."
"Yes, Sir, we do."