Author's Note: Consider this a really, really overdue birthday present for Kat, who wanted an S/J stranded off world fic inspired by the lyrics of the Cowboy Junkies' song River Waltz. I hope this is what you had in mind! Thanks to Trout for the beta.
Let the World Spin
The village lodge is filled nearly to the rafters. Every available surface sits at least two people, in some cases entire families, many having traveled great distances from the interiors of the continent to attend the biannual potlatch.
The more rambunctious of the children run around in the lofts, occasionally kicking down debris onto unsuspecting adults below. The wide entrance doors are thrown open to the cool night air in a vain attempt to catch a refreshing breeze, and in the center on a cleanly swept wooden floor, couples swoop and twirl in complex patterns to the sound of the local band. Warm yellow lantern light fills the space with illumination, leaving only the occasional dark nook to be taken of advantage of by the younger generation.
The previous evening had been the opening ceremonies, a complex ritual of giving thanks with burnt offerings and songs. Tomorrow a great bonfire will be built and famed storytellers from all over the continent will spin their tales about creation, the gods, and great heroes learning lessons of humility, faith and karma.
But tonight--tonight is all about eating, drinking and being merry.
This is the third such potlatch SG-1 has experienced on P5T-138, the first being little more than a blur in the early weeks of panic and single-minded determination to get back to Earth. The second seemed nothing more than an uncomfortable reminder of just how much time had passed.
Tonight is something different all together. Jack can't quite put his finger on it, but the celebration seems to have a whole new resonance this time around. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they've all become well versed in the culture and they just understand it better. Or maybe it's because they actually feel like a part of it this time, and not just visitors observing.
Or maybe they have just passed some unspoken point in time where home no longer means Earth.
Teal'c sits in one corner, at least a dozen children seated all around him. To the casual observer it might seem that he is deep in kelnoreem, but Jack can see the smile tugging at his lips as a girl no more than five hangs from his right arm. It took almost a year, but the haunted desperation that once hung over him has faded. Teal'c accepts that the rebellion will have to live or die without him, that even he may not be entirely irreplaceable.
Daniel sits on a bench just off to the side of the main dance floor. Jack drops down next to him, tracking his gaze across the room to Malei, a young woman who served as their guide and Daniel's language tutor when they first arrived. While Jack watches, she lifts her eyes to Daniel, smiling smoothly before returning her attention to the elder women around her.
Jack takes a sip out of the cup resting on Daniel's knee, wincing a bit when the liquid hits his tongue. "Walta's moonshine?" Jack asks when his throat is no longer burning. "You're a braver man than I thought, Daniel."
Daniel grins. "It grows on you."
"I'll have to take your word for that."
They sit together in companionable silence for a while, watching the dancers swirl by. Jack keeps a careful count of exactly how many times Daniel and Malei smile at each other.
"I never thought I would be the one to say this," Jack comments after the tenth in as many minutes, "but we're not getting out of here."
"No, I guess not," Daniel says, not taking his eyes off of Malei.
"Maybe it's time to think about what we want our lives here to be like."
"Good advice, Jack," Daniel says, pushing to his feet and saluting Jack with his cup before finishing the contents off in one swig. "Though I think there's someone else who would benefit from it even more."
Jack sighs. He knows there is, but there is also very little chance she will be as easy to convince. "Where is Carter?"
"Where do you think?" Daniel shoots back over his shoulder, already halfway across the dance floor.
Jack lingers long enough to see Daniel sweep Malei into his arms and disappear into the tumultuous throng of dancers. Then he pushes to his feet and after a nod to Teal'c, steps outside.
The moon is full, as required of the potlatch, and offers more than enough light for Jack to pick out the small trail leading back to the Stargate. Not that he hasn't gotten used to making his way carefully around in the dark. Batteries became a thing of the past more than seven months before. He may have already forgotten what strong, steady florescent light looks like.
Sam is exactly where he expects her to be, kneeling down next to the DHD, hands busily if not uselessly removing and replacing parts. He's never begrudged her work ethic, but this is a little ridiculous. Even if you ignore the huge party going on within throwing distance, she is going to ruin her eyes keeping up these late night hours.
It's such an absurd thought that Jack almost laughs, but he is willing to place blame for it on Walta's paint thinner that passes for booze around here. God knows there is nothing funny to be found here. Just desperation tinged with a healthy portion of obsession.
"How long do you plan on keeping this up?" Jack asks.
She doesn't even bother looking up at the sound of his voice. "Are you ordering me to stop?"
He detects the faintest edge of anxiety in her voice, enough to make him hunker down and settle into the grass. He picks at it for a moment, winding the smooth, limber blades through his fingers. Trang offered to teach Jack how to weave the prolific plant into baskets many, many months ago. He's thinking of taking him up on the offer.
"Do you need me to?" Jack finally asks.
She sighs loudly enough for her breath to echo inside the empty shell of the DHD. Finally turning around to look at him, she drops a tool to the ground where it flashes momentarily in the moonlight before disappearing into the hidden shadows of the grass.
"Maybe I do," she admits and he thinks maybe he should have had this conversation with her months ago.
"Sorry, that's not really my job anymore."
Her eyes widen. "You think we're stuck here." It's not quite an accusation, but close enough.
"It's looking pretty certain from where I'm sitting," Jack says.
She seems to consider it for a moment, before that stubborn flash is back and she spins back to the DHD. "No. Nothing is certain."
He watches her tinker for a while, her hands working a pattern so well memorized that she doesn't even fumble in the dark.
"This is my fault isn't it?" he muses aloud.
She stills, looking back over her shoulder at him with a certain amount of wariness. "What do you mean?" She looks disconcerted enough by the question for him to know he's on the right path.
"I've spent years asking you to do the impossible over and over again. It's not exactly fair on you. You haven't let the team down if you can't fix the damn thing."
"No," she says, her expression softening. "You've never been harder on me than I am on myself."
"Good point," he says and she smiles. "So if it's not that, then why are you still out here?"
The smile slips off her face and she rubs absently at her forehead. "It's just…"
"What?" Jack prompts.
There's a long pause as she seems to be silently talking herself into something. Eventually she abandons the DHD, moving to sit next to him the grass, so close that her knee brushes his. "I've imagined this situation a lot over the years, what it would be like to be stranded off world. We always knew it was a likely possibility."
"Yeah," Jack agrees.
"But…it wasn't always a completely unwelcome idea."
She sounds like she's just confessed to having fuzzy feelings for the Goa'uld or something.
"Some days I just thought it would be a relief," she continues when he doesn't say anything, the words tripping over each other in her haste to get them said. "A way to get away from the nonstop close calls, the day in day out dedication to duty and honor. Putting the job ahead of everything else in my life. And it wouldn't even be my fault, right? It's not like I had walked away. But then something would happen and I'd remember how much I love my job and I could almost forget my moment of weakness ever happened."
There's a lot layered in there and Jack's a little thrown off course, wondering if he's jumping far too quickly to the wrong, but tempting, conclusion.
"Carter," he says slowly, "we may have had one of the coolest jobs ever, but it was hell and gone from easy. It asked a lot of us. We've all had moments when we wished for an easy out. That doesn't somehow make this your fault."
"No, I know that," she says, both her hands now pressed down in the grass, but her eyes looking off into the trees. "I just have to make sure I've done everything even remotely possible to fix this. I have to know I didn't quit too early or I could never…." She trails off, looking up at him and Jack knows with absolute clarity what it is she's not saying.
She's not out here because she thinks she can fix it. She's out here because she's freaked out by the alternative. So her obsession with the DHD is his fault, just not in a way he's let himself imagine.
"Can you understand that?" she asks, still looking at him intently.
He does understand, even more than she probably wants him to. He's been waiting himself, using his faith in her as an excuse not to get too involved, not to indulge traitorous thoughts. He's watched Teal'c and Daniel find their place, but resisted thinking of his own, because his potential happiness here is closely tied to this woman and he's just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It always drops.
"How do you know when enough is enough?" Jack asks, hoping she can hear the unspoken question. How do you know when you should stop waiting for everything to fall apart and actually grab the opportunity that is finally presenting itself?
Her eyes drop away from him, her fingers busy ripping a blade of grass to pieces. "I don't know."
Biting the bullet, Jack reaches out to cover her hands with his, feeling the warmth of her skin against the cool grass. "Tell me that you can fix it and I'll believe you. I'll hold on and order you to stick your head back into that thing. I'll walk back to the village and drag the kids off Teal'c and demand that he remember the rebellion he started. I'll remind Daniel of his track record with fraternizing with aliens.
"Look me straight in the eye and promise me that you haven't already tried everything you could think of ten times over."
Her hands shift under his, not to pull away, but twisting open, her fingers hesitantly tangling with his. In the silence he can just make out the distant hum of the party.
"And if I can't?" she eventually asks, sounding a little out of breath.
His thumb rubs lazy circles across her palm. "Then maybe I'll take up basket weaving."
She looks confused for a moment, but recovers quickly. "Could you be happy with that? With this as your life?"
"Is that what this is about?"
"You didn't chooseto…be a basket weaver," she says, staring down at their entwined hands. "You're just making do with your limited options."
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Jack can't help but smile at the ridiculousness of her statement. "I think I'll make an excellent basket weaver," he says, unable to resist teasing her.
For a moment she seems frustrated at his seeming obtuseness, before looking up to find the smirk on his face. Pulling her hands from his grasp, she pushes to her feet and starts rooting around the grass for the tool she dropped earlier, though whether to get back to fixing the DHD or to hit him over the head is anyone's guess.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he says, following her over to the DHD. "You just have to know there is no one else in the universe I would rather be stranded with, Carter."
She straightens at his words, turning around to look at him, the tool now clenched in one hand. "Not even Thor?" she asks with mock seriousness.
Warily eying the heavy metal gizmo, he takes a few steps closer to her. "Not even Thor," he swears.
When she doesn't back away, or lift her impromptu weapon any higher, he dares to move even closer to her until they are nearly toe to toe.
"You're not the only one who's let themselves consider this situation, Carter," he says, running one hand down her arm, reveling in the feel of her skin under his palm. "Far more often than I probably should have."
She manages to look both relieved and freaked out by the confession, but after one quick glance at the DHD, her free hand lifts to touch his arm.
Jack leans slightly closer, his hand sliding around her waist. "Can you fix the DHD?" he asks.
She's staring at his chest, her hand clenching around his arm. "I can't."
He can almost feel the tension vibrating through her body. "Let it go, Sam."
Out of the corner of his eye he catches the flash of the tool dropping back to the grass, and then her hands are on his face, pulling his mouth down to hers. Her lips are soft and almost hesitant against his, but it takes no time at all for pressure to build, Jack's arms tightening around her waist as she leans into him, every curve of her body flush against his.
Her mouth opens under his, the kiss deepening and rapidly shooting well past pleasant and all Jack can think is he was crazy not to do this months ago.
A resounding crack in the still night air breaks them apart, both dropping down by the DHD and scanning the area without thinking. There's another sharp pop and Jack lets out a shaky breath.
"Firecrackers," he says, reaching out to grab her shoulder.
"Oh, god. That's embarrassing," she says with a laugh, one hand running through her hair as she stands back up.
"I won't tell anyone if you don't."
"Deal," she says.
They stand there for a while, staring at each other and listening to the continued crack of small explosives in the distance. Sticking his hands in his pockets, Jack clears his throat.
"So…," Sam says, a bit more amused by his awkwardness than he's entirely happy with.
"So. You all done here?" he asks, nodding his head towards the DHD. "Because in case you didn't notice, there's a pretty big party going on."
"Yeah, I'm done," she says with a smile. "What exactly do you have in mind?"
He has a lot of things in mind, but he's not sure rushing her into anything is the best idea. Really. "Feel up to risking Watha's swill and making asses of ourselves on the dance floor?"
"Are you trying to get me to change my mind?" she asks, her hand slipping into his as they leave the meadow.
"Too late now, Carter," he says, squeezing her hand. "You're stuck with me."
"Lucky me," she says with a drawn out sigh. Before he can fake umbrage at her tone, her finger slips under the edge of his shirt, skimming along his lower back.
It's possible dancing is completely overrated.
He tugs her off the path, backing her up against the nearest tree. "Or we could just stay out here for a while," he says.
"Much better plan, Jack," she agrees, sliding one hand up under his shirt.
There'd always be another potlatch.
that I know to be true
is the touch of your hand on my skin.
one look from you can so easily soothe
all this turmoil within.
as we dance cheek to cheek
with our feet so completely
locked in a time all our own.
I stop to speak
but you gently keep me
moving in time to the song.
and in a voice that is sloppy with gin
you say, "let the world spin".
Cowboy Junkies-"River Waltz"