Jack dropped into the lawn chair on the dock beside Daniel. "So," he said, and waited for one of the other members of SG-1 to take the bait.
Daniel bit first. "So?"
Jack tossed a yellow bound periodical into Daniel's lap. Daniel fumbled the magazine, trying to juggle it and the open can of pop in his hand at the same time. The pop won, but just barely. Daniel shook off the drops of cola that ran down the back of his hand and Jack pretended not to see the look of annoyance that was sent his way.
Jack scooped the magazine off the dock. "Interesting article in this issue of National Geographic," he said, handing the magazine to Daniel this time.
"I didn't know you actually read the articles," Daniel commented dryly.
"It's not Penthouse, Daniel."
From the other side of Daniel, he heard Sam snicker. He leaned forward, intending to defend himself, but she was smiling and that had been a rare sight the last few weeks. Not wanting to ruin it, he sniffed in mock indignation. "You might want to take a look at the article too, Carter. SG-1 may have been newsworthy."
Sam took her sunglasses off and leaned over Daniel's arm to get a good look at the magazine. "What have we done this time?" she asked. "They've already covered the meteor, and they shouldn't be able to detect my supernova for at least another three hundred years."
"It's not your supernova I'm referring to, Carter." He reached over Daniel's other arm and poked at the first article in the table of contents. "Read the cover story."
Daniel flipped back to the cover, his thumb marking his place. "Jack, this is from March."
"So I'm a little behind."
"From two years ago?" Daniel raised an eyebrow.
Jack opened the magazine again and sat back. "Just read the article." He slouched down in the deck chair to enjoy the late summer sun while Daniel and Sam read, and mentally gave Teal'c the evil-eye for hogging the hammock all afternoon.
She knew he'd follow her. He'd been doing it every time she slipped away at night since they'd arrived in Giza a couple of months ago, each time staying far enough back that she had the illusion of privacy. Sam didn't think he knew that she was aware of his presence.
She'd never realized how cold the desert could feel at night. Sure, she'd known intellectually about the climate from Daniel's descriptions of Abydos and her own brief experiences on some of the more arid planets they'd visited, but now there was no alternative, no quick trip through the Stargate home.
She suspected the chill she felt as she stood wrapped in a rough blanket in the shelter of the ruined tomb had very little to do with the lack of vegetation to hold the heat close to the earth. Even the stars felt cold tonight.
Sam hated when a plan failed. Sure there was always Plan B - start a rebellion and expedite Ra's exile from Earth, but Plan A should have worked. They should be sitting on the dock at the Colonel's cabin right now, drinking beer and reminiscing about old times before they all moved on to new assignments, not all this plotting and waiting.
The video camera was her own private hope, no matter how confident Jack and Teal'c were that they could overthrow Ra. If that failed, they'd still have the hope of warning their future selves.
And when had she started letting herself think of him as 'Jack'? Not when the timeship had been discovered, because there had still been hope of getting the ship back. And surely not when they'd burned what was left of their worn uniforms because, as Daniel had pointed out, there had been pieces of well preserved fabric discovered in tombs up and down the Nile and they couldn't afford to leave clues to their presence, even accidentally. Knowing this hadn't stopped her from hesitating before she threw her jacket into the flames, until she'd seen him nod from the other side of the fire, giving her that last order to let go.
That had been when she'd started sneaking out. She didn't do it every night, only on those when she felt her failure like a crushing weight. When she needed to mourn the future they'd never see. When she needed to kick at stones and curse at the sand until tears ran down her face and mixed with the dust she never seemed to be able to wash away. Until she would slide down the rough sandstone wall and slump in amongst the desert scrub because she was spent and worn thin and so afraid that the others might see her break.
But tonight she'd just come for the space. For the chance of a few solitary minutes without the itch of their watchful eyes on her neck. Not that she didn't appreciate their concern and repaid it in kind, but living cheek-to-cheek with the same familiar faces for the last sixty days was wearing on her, no matter how much she cared for each of them. She leaned back against the sandstone and felt the day's warmth radiating from the smooth blocks, easing some of the chill. She tried to pick out the predecessors of the familiar constellations, but this was the wrong hemisphere, or she was looking in the wrong spot.
Sam blew out a loud sigh that was lost in the wind that tugged at the loose strands of not-quite long enough for a ponytail hair she'd tried tucking behind her ears. If Jack was still out there watching out for her, he'd be getting stiff hunkering down in the cold by now. She should head back to their camp.
She pushed away from the wall, turned to retrace her footsteps that were already being filled in by the wind, and stopped short at the figure leaning against the end of the wall.
When Jack stepped out from the shadows and she noticed how the moonlight made him look older, worn and tired. She guessed they were all feeling the weight of their temporal captivity.
"Hey," he said, shoving his hands deep into folds of his desert robes, trying to look like he always strolled by here at half-past midnight.
"Hi," she answered, not entirely surprised that he'd finally shown himself. Maybe a small part of her had been hoping that one of these times he actually would. Maybe that's why she kept coming out here in the first place.
He offered her an arm, ever the gentleman. "Walk you home, Miss?"
Sam shook her head and looked out towards the empty desert. "If only it were that easy."
"All this article talks about is the migration of populations from northern Africa and the seeding of genetic variation along those trade routes," Sam frowned when she'd finished reading. "Is there something I'm missing?"
"Jack?" Daniel prompted, but Jack just sat there, arms behind his head, waiting for them to put the pieces together.
Perhaps noticing the disturbance to the otherwise quiet afternoon, Teal'c pushed his hat up from where it had been shading his eyes and joined them on the dock. He peered over Daniel's shoulder at the magazine.
"You believe we changed the timeline, O'Neill," he stated. With that calm certainty, Jack was certain Teal'c would make an excellent contestant on Jeopardy. If only they could get him the security clearance. It didn't surprise him when Teal'c jumped to the same conclusion Jack had well before the two scientists with their tendency to sometimes over-think things.
He snapped his fingers and pointed at Teal'c. "Bingo."
Daniel and Sam craned their necks to stare up at Teal'c.
"We changed the time line?" Sam asked.
"But Teal'c, how could you know that?" Daniel starting leafing though the pages again, trying to find the clues he'd overlooked.
"On page forty-two." Teal'c stood there with his hands behind his back looking pleased with himself while Daniel flipped back to the page to give it a more thorough re-read.
"Blue eyes?" Sam asked. Jack loved seeing her face light up whenever she hit upon the solution to one of life's more pressing questions, like how to increase the yield of a naquada-enhanced nuclear warhead with only a piece of string, some chewing gum, and a spare zat, or how to make sure she was first in line when they put out the fresh Jell-O. This time however, she looked puzzled, like he was trying to pull the world's lamest practical jokes and she just wasn't getting the humor.
"The article suggests that the introduction of lightly pigmented eyes to the population on the Giza plateau is due to the influences of persons not native to the region," Teal'c summarized.
Jack raised an eyebrow in Teal'c's direction.
"You left the magazine on the table yesterday," Teal'c amended. "I have been considering the implications since."
Daniel turned his chair around so he could look at Teal'c. "And you think we were responsible."
"It is possible," Teal'c answered.
Daniel frowned and shook his head. "All timestamps for the events described on the video check out though. And as long as those are correct, we have no other reference points to compare against." He looked at Jack. "How can you be sure?"
Jack shrugged. "I guess we can't."
"Carter?" he asked. "Any thoughts?" Sam had been uncharacteristically quiet and Jack was starting to regret bringing up the topic in the first place. He'd hoped that between her and Daniel, they'd have been able to poke his theory full of holes. He should have just dismissed the idea and let them all enjoy their vacation.
"I don't know," she considered. "I guess it's possible. You didn't happen to read the article before our departure date on that tape, did you?"
"It was still in the wrapper when I threw it in the truck." Jack leaned forward, looking for an opening to steer the conversation in another direction. He nudged Daniel's foot from where it was resting on the lid of the cooler and fished through the half-melted ice until he found a beer. He offered it to Sam, who took it with a distracted smile and tossed the bottle cap back into the cooler. He hoped her mind was already onto something else.
He fished through the cooler again and realized he'd given away his last beer. He grimaced at the can of diet cola and decided he wasn't that thirsty after all. "So, who's up for a beer run and who's on supper duty tonight?"
"No," he answered, "it's not that easy, is it?" Sam saw him frown briefly, the only tell that he was still blaming himself for approving the mission in the fist place, but he schooled his expression quickly enough. Maybe keeping an eye on her wasn't the only reason he'd been following her into the desert. They were carrying their own fair share of guilt about this one.
Teal'c was accustomed to taking whatever life threw at him in stride - if the mission to vanquish another false god required him to live in secrecy in ancient Egypt, then so be it. It was a small price to pay for the eventual freedom of his people. He had dedicated himself to a higher purpose a long time ago.
And Daniel, despite being trapped in the past, was in his element. He had once confided to Sam that he used to dream about being able to live amongst the people of the Fourth Dynasty and really study the cultures he'd been theorizing about all those years before his induction into the Stargate program. To be in the exact time and place to support his theories was like a dream come true, and despite her firm reminders that he couldn't interfere with the culture, Sam had caught him watching from the fringes with a look of fascination that reminded her of her nephew when she'd presented him with his first set of Mechano and spent the afternoon building race cars and rocket ships with him.
Yet another reminder of the things they were missing out on that made her chest ache. Teal'c and Daniel had figured out how to, if not fit in here, then live like they belonged. Sam envied them.
She reached out to take Jack's proffered arm and hesitated with her fingers just inches away from his sleeve. If Daniel and Teal'c had allowed themselves to accept the situation and find some way to continue to live their lives, why couldn't she?
What it really came down to in the end was that she didn't think she could go back with him and spend another long night sleeping next to him, with his warmth against her back and his breath against her ear, yet still feeling so alone in the presence of her teammates. She needed something more. She wanted something more. She just needed to give herself permission.
And so she did.
Reaching one hand to his sleeve and the other to grab the front of his robes, she pulled him to her and kissed him. If Jack hesitated, it was only for an instant before his free hand was on her neck and finding its way through her hair and pulling her closer to deepen the kiss. Apparently she hadn't been the only one needing this connection.
She stumbled backwards, his mouth still against hers, and she felt the warm stone against her back again. His hands were on her cheeks, his fingers brushing her ears, his lips and teeth and tongue dancing with hers. She slid her hands under his shirt, needing to feel him closer, to strip away the last of the barriers. She just needed to feel.
She heard a moan and thought it might be the wind, but it might have come from deep inside her. This wasn't how she'd imagined the first time would be with him, and she had imagined it plenty of time over the years. It wasn't slow and sweet with him taking his time to explore every curve and every angle of her body. It wasn't her kneeling over him in the afternoon sunlight, teasing him and bringing him right to the edge before backing off and teasing him some more.
It was raw and hurried, as if they couldn't get enough of each other. It was his hands lifting her robes to run calloused hands along her ribs and down her hips to pull their bodies closer. It was her biting and nipping along his collarbone and across his throat. It was him pinning her against the hard stone wall with his hands in her hair while she undid the ties on his pants, fumbling the laces into knots.
It was her not caring for once about consequences and outcomes because she was so damned tired of the fear of stepping off the path and squashing the proverbial insect that changed history. It was years of tension and denial finally coming to a head at the moment when they were already so close to breaking. It was about him moaning her name when he came, and about her watching him with her eyes wide open when she did because she wanted to see him to know this was real. It was being outside of time for an instant with the stars shining down on them, the wind sighing over the dunes, and the warm stone at her back.
Jack should have known better.
Once Teal'c and Daniel had left in the truck, armed with a map and a shopping list of provisions they would need for the rest of the week, Carter had slipped her sunglasses back on and slouched down in the deck chair, ostensibly napping. But after knowing her for nearly nine years, he shouldn't have been so easily fooled. Carter's mind never stopped, even when the rest of her was on vacation.
Rounding the side of the cabin with the spare propane tank, he caught sight of her through the screen door, hunched over a notepad at his kitchen table, writing madly.
She jumped when he let the screen bang shut behind him.
"Since Teal'c and Daniel left over an hour ago, I'll put five to one odds that that," he pointed to the notepad she'd scrounged from his junk drawer and was now holding against her chest as if it was in danger on confiscation, "is not a grocery list. You are supposed to be on vacation, Carter."
Sam set the pad back down in front of her and winced. "Would you believe me if I told you it was a list of things I need to pack for Nevada?" she asked hopefully.
"Not a chance," he replied. "And even if it was, I'd still tell you to save it for the trip home." He reached over and picked up the pad. She'd already filled four pages with her tightly packed scrawl. Flow charts and checkerboards of letter combinations took up some of the space. The rest was filled by notes in bulleted lists, names and phone numbers, and a few underlined question marks. Carter's own shorthand that he'd learned to decipher over the years.
Knowing how to decipher it was a far cry from actually understanding it, but he could translate enough. He tossed the pad back on the table. "For crying out loud, I shouldn't have even brought it up." He was annoyed as much with himself for making the suggestion to begin with as he was with Sam for pursuing the idea of an altered timeline when she should have been relaxing.
"No, it's a valid point." Sam pushed he chair back from the table and gathered up the notepad. She tore off the top few sheets and put the pad back into the still-open junk drawer. "If we did change the timeline, there's got to be a way of verifying it. I have a contact at the genetics laboratory at-"
"Carter," Jack cut her off. "Does it really matter?"
"Well," she looked surprised that he'd even asked the question. She flipped through her newly written notes. "If I can confirm that the timeline has been changed, then we can start looking for other indicators of aberrations in recorded historical events and compare their impact to what we remember-"
Jack held up a hand. "Carter, just stop."
Sam froze. Jack felt a twinge of guilt for being so blunt, but her mind was racing like a wild mustang and he needed her to rope it in before she hobbled herself.
"Look," he said. He opened the drawer by the stove, intending to grab the barbecue utensils. "It was only a theory, okay? I don't even think there's a way to prove that one of us…" he rifled through the drawer while he tried to come up with the right expression. Finding neither the tongs, nor an elegant way of explaining, he turned back to her and said, "Got lucky with a local and passed on our genes." He winced, hoping she would forgive his indelicacy.
"One of us?" she asked. "I could see if Daniel or I were the contributor." She bit her lip, clearly uncomfortable to be discussing the sex lives of their alternate, parallel, time-traveling selves. "Though I'd like to think that we would have been a little more discreet if there was a risk of contaminating the time line." She ran a hand through her hair and let out a breath. "I don't think you or Teal'c would have had to worry, though."
"I'm sure Teal'c was the model of discretion," Jack teased. "We probably don't have to worry about him being his own grandfather. Or son. Or," he shrugged and waved a hand. "You know how it works."
Sam blushed and looked away. Apparently, it hadn't been Teal'c's behavior she had been considering.
"If it's any consolation, I could have been the one responsible." Jack checked the drawer next to the sink and found the missing tongs. He knew she was waiting for him to elaborate, but he was taking his time to make sure he understood it correctly. He vaguely remembered bits and pieces from long ago biology classes, while other details he'd picked up here and there while killing time in Carter's lab or listening to Fraiser. As much as he liked to pretend otherwise, he did retain a fair amount of what he heard in briefings. You never knew when you might need that knowledge in a pinch.
Sam turned and raised an eyebrow. "You?" she asked.
"Sure," he leaned back against the counter and twirled the tongs around his index finger. "My grandfather settled in these parts with the rest of the Icelanders. The whole faire-faired, blue eyed bunch would've made Thor proud."
She didn't try to hide her surprise. "But you would still only be a carrier of the gene. You would need to be paired up with someone else who was either a carrier, or-"
"Or someone who also has blue eyes," he finished for her. "And I'm pretty sure it wasn't Daniel."
She looked down at her notes and Jack couldn't see her face. He wasn't sure if he'd crossed the line with the last crack, or if she was considering the implications. She wasn't saying anything and he was starting to get a little worried.
"Carter," he tried to get her attention. She shuffled through her notes, still avoiding him. "There's probably a thousand different ways this could have played out. People coming from all over the place, making pit-stops on their way to some great flea market, or something. There's no way of proving if we were actually responsible for changing things."
She seemed to have found the page she was looking for and she held it out to him. "Actually, there is a way."
Jack took the sheet, but the answer wasn't spelled out in capital letters for him. "There is?"
"Mitochondrial DNA," she said, as if it explained everything. Jack was aware that she knew that he understood a lot more than he let on, but this was pushing it.
"Okay," he drew out the word, knowing she would elaborate. He looked down at the paper again and saw it was one of the words she'd underlined. Repeatedly.
"Mitochondrial DNA is actually the building instructions contained in each of your cell's mitochondria." She caught his frown. "Basically, your cell's version of a naquada reactor."
Jack nodded for her to continue. The details weren't that important to him, but she would need to lay out her explanation for him anyhow. It's how her mind worked.
"Anyhow," she continued, getting caught up in the excitement of her theory. "this version of DNA can be traced back through the female of the species, from daughter to mother, back thousands of years. Scientists have actually been able to trace modern man right back to the fossilized remains of one woman found in northern Africa." Sam started to pace across the small kitchen. "If we could find a tissue sample that we knew originated in Giza around the time our counterparts were there, we could confirm how closely we were related." She turned to him, eyes bright, waiting for permission to put her plan in motion.
They both turned at the sound of the truck's tires crunching on the gravel driveway.
Jack handed back the piece of paper. "But what it comes down to, Carter, is in the long run, does it really matter?"
Her legs were trembling as he slid away, his fingers still twined in her hair and her clothing as if he was afraid she'd slip away from him if he lost his grip on her. Sam grabbed the blanket from where it had fallen and wrapped it around them both as they sat side by side on the hard packed sand. She would be sore tomorrow, but it would be the kind of ache that would remind her of what it felt like to be alive and not just a spectator to this time and place as they went about the business of plotting and planning and staying alive until they could figure out a way to fix the time line and make it back home.
"So." Jack said. He winced and looked out across the desert.
Sam could tell he was searching for the right words, rolling them over in his mind, and tossing them aside when they didn't quite fit. She didn't want him to apologize or ask her if she was okay, because maybe for the first time since they'd arrived, she was starting to feel that they just might be. She leaned against him and slid her hand into his, their fingers meshing like they'd done this a million times before.
"It's okay," she told him when he finally looked at her. "I've got nothing either." He looked startled, but she didn't try to hold back her smile.
He let go of her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulder and she let him pull her close. "Okay then," he nodded and rest his head against hers.
They sat that way until Sam started to shiver. The breeze had picked up, throwing grains of sand into their faces. Jack offered her a hand and pulled her to her feet. She wrapped the blanket around her shoulders and let him lead her back to their camp. Things would be different now. She couldn't pretend that they could prevent every change. There were always going to be consequences and they'd deal with them as they came. But at least when she fell asleep tonight with his warmth at her back, his arm would also be around her waist.
Sam had excused herself from the card game a good ten minutes earlier, claiming that she had left something in the truck. Daniel had declared that he was ready for a break anyhow, and went to rifle through the cupboards for snacks. Teal'c had discovered a box of comic books in the closet of one of the bedrooms and was working his way through the pile from his post on the sofa.
Jack grabbed the afghan off the back of the chair by the door on his way past and went to make sure Sam hadn't gotten lost in the dark.
He'd always found that late summer evenings were pleasant in Minnesota once the sun went down. The height of mosquito season was past, and it was still warm enough that he didn't need a jacket. He could stand outside and watch the stars in relative comfort.
As he'd expected, Jack found her at the end of the dock, head tilted to watch the sky. It's where he'd have gone if he'd wanted some space to think.
"It's funny," she said without turning around. "We've traveled light-years. Crossed galaxies. Even visited some of these solar systems ourselves and still it's these constellations that amaze me the most. To think that our ancestors looked up and saw the very same stars…" she trailed off.
The bullfrog under the dock stopped his grumping as Jack sauntered across the boards, but the rest of the night critters ignored him. They had more interesting things to worry about than a couple of humans trespassing on their evening business.
"I bet the other us thought the same thing five thousand years ago," he said and then mentally kicked himself for bringing it up again. She'd been quiet since the conversation in the kitchen and Jack knew she hadn't really let go of the idea that they'd altered history, even if it was only a tiny bit.
He couldn't really see the look she gave him in the dark, but she wasn't watching the stars anymore. Her hands were shoved deep into the pockets of her jeans and her shoulders were hunched. He didn't need to ask to know what was bothering her.
"Chaos theory," she said simply, turning back to the pond.
"You're still worried that if we changed one thing, like eye color, then what else did that affect."
He could barely see her nod. "All it takes is one little incident to change the course of history," she replied. "For want of a nail, the war was lost."
Jack couldn't argue that point. "Tell me something, Carter," he asked instead. "Your life so far, would you change anything?"
That caught her by surprise. He heard her take a breath to answer, then the soft sigh as she considered the question.
"If you're asking if I have any regrets, then yes, there are things I wish I hadn't done and choices I wish I'd made differently."
"That's not what I'm asking," he said. He hooked his thumbs in the pockets of his jeans and waited for her to answer. "Knowing everything you know, would you change anything?" he prompted.
Her sandal scuffed at the edge of the dock.
"No," she said finally, pulling the ends of her sleeves over her hands and tucking them under her arms. "I guess not."
Sam shivered. He draped the afghan across her shoulders and was surprised when she leaned back into him. He wrapped his arms around her, enjoying the warmth of her body against his for the sake of something other than survival.
She looked up at him over her should and her voice was quiet, inviting. "I guess maybe the past isn't what's important, after all."
Jack didn't have an argument for that either. And there wasn't anything he wanted to change about right now. So instead, he took a chance and kissed her.