A/N: At end.
Set after Nemesis, on P3X-234. Ep synopsis: SG-1, minus Daniel who's recovering from an emergency appendectomy (it really was Shanks' appendix) faces creatures of mass destruction that even the Asgard can't control, and must destroy Thor's infested vessel before the Replicator bugs reach Earth. This is the first half of the two-part season ender.
Give and Take
Village near the Stargate
Sam scuffed her boots along the dusty path, her head down, and her hands jammed deep into the pockets of her BDU's. It felt good to have the uniform on again. Good to have it clean again. The people of Teal'c's tribe, People of the Sun High Plains, she reminded herself quickly, had been so nice to them. So willing to help, but their choice in clothing, especially for the women, left a great deal to be desired. And little to the imagination.
Sam tugged her overshirt closer around her shoulders as the night breeze picked up. With a glance over her shoulder at the two young warriors Bra'tac had chosen to accompany her, she continued her trek back into the village, her thoughts far away. It had been nearly a week since they'd 'gated here. Nearly a week and still no answer from Earth. Their first stop, P3X-234, had been Teal'c's choice, and while Sam could see why he'd chosen it, she also agreed with their decision as a team to not remain their. While the land was lush and lovely, and the stargate located on a brief rise in a rolling, grassy plain, there had been nothing –and no one–to offer protection should they need it.
Thor's capsule had disappeared in a blinding flash of light the moment she, Teal'c and the Colonel dashed through the gate, leaving them all stunned for a moment. They'd waited for two more hours near the gate, in case the Asgard that had taken Thor were of a mind to give them a lift too; however, as night fell it became apparent that they were on their own. Sam's lips lifted in tiny smile as she recalled O'Neill's somewhat indignant grumbling about the Asgard and a lack of gratitude. With no food and no survival gear, Teal'c had suggested that they 'gate to Chulak. It was just as easy to 'gate home from there as it was from this lovely, if uninhabited, place.
Topping the small rise that rolled down into the village, Sam lifted her gaze and studied the layout, her eyes automatically searching the villagers for familiar faces. Ry'ac and his friends were free of their lessons for the day and could be seen at the farthest edges of the village area, a small knot of boys and girls running and laughing. The sight brought another smile to Sam's face. Usually she was able to spot her Colonel mixed in with that group, but he seemed to be absent today.
With a wave to one of the villagers resting on the low wall over her garden, Sam continued on. She was hungry after her walk to the 'gate, and a little irritated that she'd forgotten to bring a snack along on the three-hour round trip. Kar'el, the more outgoing of the two who most often escorted her, gave her a brief wave as he and his friend peeled off to join more young warriors around the open fire in the center of town. Sam watched them go, wondering if she went with them if she'd find food. The trouble was that if she joined the group around the fire, she'd be sending the wrong message and she didn't want to make that mistake.
Sam frowned and pressed a hand to her stomach, hoping the growl that had rolled through her had not been audible to those around her. She, Teal'c, and the Colonel had just arrived in the village and Teal'c's people seemed very happy to see them.
"Seem happy we're here, don't they?" O'Neill asked beside her, unknowingly echoing her thoughts.
"Yeah." Sam's stomach rumbled again and this time she saw O'Neill's mouth twitch slightly. "You think there's food around here, Sir?"
"I'll check." O'Neill shot her a small smile as he strode off, mixing in with Teal'c's friends easily, accepted for his manhood as much as anything else.
Sam, meanwhile, had spotted a roaring fire situated in the center of the village. She could see folks circling the fire casually. Some standing, some sitting. All appeared to be having a good time. And best of all, she realized, she could see plates being passed from person to person. She glanced around for her Colonel, trying to tell him she'd figured it out, but was unable to spot him. Checking again, she saw that a great many of the folks around the fire were women, so that meant she'd likely be welcome there, too. With one last glance toward Teal'c and the Colonel, Sam headed toward the fire.
She was greeted warmly by the men, the greeting a bit more reserved from the women. One woman stood up and walked closer, peering intently at first Sam's bright blonde hair, then into her eyes. She frowned and muttered under her breath, but seemed to respond when Sam smiled at her, hoping to set the woman at ease. After a long moment the woman nodded to Sam and waved her toward the fire.
Several young men scrambled to their feet to make room and Sam was oddly flattered by the gesture. She smiled her thanks and sat down, then looked around for one of the passing plates of food she'd spotted earlier, but trying not to be too obvious about it. Finally she smelled one before she saw it and she eagerly sat up. One man, almost a boy, really, snatched the plate as it passed and then slowly turned to Sam. He offered up the plate and Sam's mouth watered. Piled high and still steaming were slices of some sort of meat that gave off the most enticing aroma she'd ever smelled. The boy nodded to her and lifted the plate closer. Sam, not seeing any utensils about, pulled her knife from it's sheath and was about to spear a piece when her arm was caught from behind.
Turning swiftly she found herself almost nose-to-nose with O'Neill. "Wh– Sir?"
Confused, Sam could only stare at him. "Don't what, Sir?" She tried to pull her arm free and was surprised when O'Neill shook his head and tightened his grip. "Colonel, what's wrong? I wasn't going to hurt the kid, I was just going to take a slice of –"
"Carter. This is their cake."
Truly baffled now, Sam could only stare. She glanced back over her shoulder to find the young man with the plate staring balefully at O'Neill, the plate of food suspended between them. She glanced from boy's face to the still steaming, mouthwatering meat and back again, then followed the boy's gaze to O'Neill. "Their . . . cake?"
O'Neill's grip tightened further and his tone was more urgent. He leaned close and said meaningfully, "Their cake."
"You can't mean . . ."
Sam jerked backward, away from the boy and the plate, almost tumbling into O'Neill's arms. "Oh, crap. Really?"
"Yes, really. Look around you, Carter, nobody around this fire is older that 20!"
"Yes, but . . .Oh." Sam let O'Neill lift her to her feet, scarcely noticing that he had yet to let go of her arm as they walked, though his touch had gentled now that she was away from her eager would-be suitor. "So, if I had taken the meat from him . . ."
"That's what I thought," the Colonel muttered, his voice grim.
Sam let herself be pulled along, her mind working furiously. "So, just so I have this clear. The whole offering food thing?"
"Offer, accept, turn it around then offer, accept."
"And that means . . . ?"
"'You do,'?" Sam repeated.
"No, you do. Or did. Or almost did. For good."
O'Neill stopped them both, then turned to face Sam. She could see the lingering concern in his eyes and offered him a weak smile. "Wow," she said again. "Thanks, Sir. For the rescue. That would have been fun to explain in a report."
"Especially the part about the groom being barely seventeen." The Colonel's lips quirked up in a small smile and he waited for her to catch his gaze, then said, "C'mon, Bra'tac's got some room for us at the grown-ups table.
Seventeen? Sam swallowed hard. "I'm, um, not sure I'm still hungry."
"Okay, then you can watch me eat." O'Neill paused and then added, "Um, but, just to be safe, don't ask anybody but me to pass the potatoes."
"Hey." O'Neill looked up as she entered the hut they'd been loaned for the duration of their stay. "Any luck?"
"No, Sir. Still not engaging."
"Must be the world's longest busy signal."
"I figured they'd have the backup 'gate out of storage by now." Sam sighed as she took off her jacket and draped it over a chair. She glanced up quickly as O'Neill picked up the jacket again and added to the one he had draped over his arm. He started for the door and stopped as she asked, "Sir?"
"C'mon." The Colonel reached out to pull her behind him then quickly dropped his hand down again, instead waving her forward.
He'd been doing that a lot lately. He'd reach for her, then let his hand fall away. Or pull it back. Sam knew she'd been doing the same thing. It was only natural, she told herself. They were the only Tau'ri on the planet. Teal'c was often out and about with his old friends, or his family, or Bra'tac, leaving Sam and the Colonel to fend for themselves. The Colonel had quickly joined one of the hunting parties and then fished on the days the men weren't out looking for food. Sam, however, didn't fit in. She didn't enjoy cooking, or cleaning, or sewing, and none of the warriors would spar with her. O'Neill did, and he invited her fishing with him when he went. In fact . . . Sam smiled as she realized where he was leading her.
"Night fishing, Colonel?" Sam asked quietly as they drew near to the space he'd set up along the babbling brook that bordered the north end of the village.
"Yup. Ry'ac swears that the fish bite better at night." O'Neill dropped down beside the small fire he'd built and began to prepare their poles.
Sam joined him, trying not to think too much about how much she was enjoying this time alone with her Colonel. "Won't the fire scare them off?"
"Shouldn't. Might make it better, even. Flashes of light on the water. Might make the fish think it's food."
Sam nodded and took the pole from him. She settled herself into position, her back to the tree she shared with him, her line disappearing into the dark waters rolling past. The last rays of sun faded into night and the fire popped and crackled as O'Neill slowly fed more fuel. She could see the light doing just as he'd said it would, dancing and flickering across the surface of the water, hopefully enticing fish to rise. Just as he joined her, Sam's line snapped tight. Immediately the Colonel was on his feet, the makeshift net he'd made held loosely in his hands.
"Easy, Carter. Looks like a biggie. Should make a great dinner."
"I've got it, Sir. Can you . . . yes. Right there. Ready?" Sam waited for his nod before giving a sharp pull on her fishing pole. As she'd intended, the fish shot out of the water in a graceful arc only to be snatched out of the air by O'Neill's net.
The grin he flashed her shot straight through her, and Sam bit her lip to keep from saying something inappropriate. It was ridiculous to react this way to a man who'd just caught their dinner in mid-air. To distract herself, Sam handed him her pole and took the net from him. "I'll take care of this one, Sir, if you want to try to catch another."
"You sure?" O'Neill tilted his head. "You usually ask me to–"
Sam shrugged. "I feel like cutting something up, that's all." She efficiently dispatched the fish, then set about gutting it, careful to slice away from her body and concentrating carefully on the position of her fingers. After a moment she looked up to find the Colonel, line dutifully back in the water, his eyes on her face.
"Carter, what's goin' on?"
Shrugging again, Sam let a small bit of the frustration she was feeling creep into her voice. "I guess . . . I guess I figured we'd be home by now."
"I know. And . . ." He waved one hand encouragingly. He'd turned back to face the river but Sam knew that he was completely focused on what she was saying.
"What if . . . what if they think we're dead?"
"I'm pretty sure they've noticed the 'gate's missing, Carter. That's a pretty big clue."
Sam sighed as she wrapped the fish in the broad leaves that were so prevalent to the area. She'd had this argument with herself for days, and it felt good to say the words out loud. Especially to him. "I know that logically, Colonel. But . . . I don't know. I keep thinking that something's gone wrong. What if someone found a way to prevent us . . . them . . . from putting up the backup 'gate?"
"I don't know . . . someone," Sam replied slightly irritably, uncharacteristically snapping at him. She was being irrational and it didn't help to realize that. She carefully placed the wrapped fish in the fire and settled in to wait for it to cook. She wished she'd had a chance to grab a snack from the hut before he'd dragged her out here, she was starving and that wasn't helping her mood any. Her stomach rumbled and she shifted, sternly telling it to shut up and wait for the fish that was just beginning to steam.
Sam looked up to see the Colonel holding out his hand. She automatically held up hers and when he opened his fist caught the tumble of berries as they cascaded into her cupped palms. "Berries?"
"Yeah. Kind of like blueberries. Try 'em, they're great."
Biting into a berry, Sam had to agree. Slightly cinnamon-y and sweet, the berry juice exploded in her mouth. She savored the taste and then, acceding to the demands of her stomach, quickly ate two more. "Mmh, thanks."
Sam set the berries aside and carefully poked two sticks into the fire to turn their fish. She added a few more branches to the fire and then sat back again, popping two more berries into her mouth. She realized she was in a slightly better mood and wondered if her blood sugar had gotten too low before.
"You seemed a bit . . . cranky."
"I know. Sorry."
"No, I'm good 'til the fish is ready." Sam glanced quickly at him. "I am sorry, Sir. For snapping."
"No need." O'Neill paused, then recast his line. His movement brought his shoulder into contact with hers. "We will get home, Sam. I promise. Hammond won't leave us behind."
Sam sighed. "I know. I just . . . I hate feeling useless. There's nothing for me to do here."
O'Neill cast his line again. "I guess it's a good thing you weren't going to join me in Minnesota, then."
Puzzled and slightly hurt, because she really had, for one fleeting instant, considered it, Sam turned to face him. "Why's that?"
"Cause this," he waved his hand indicating the creek, the fire, and the fishing pole. "This is a lot like my cabin. Only with less beer."
"But," Sam bit her lip. The fire popped beside her and she jumped. "But," she tried again. "I–it would be different. There. Then."
"Because there I'd at least have the option of doing something. I mean, if I went. Which I wasn't going to, but I might have. You know. I could have fished, or, you know. Found something else to do." Realizing she was rambling, Sam reached over and opened the leaves wrapped around the fish, checking to see if it was done. A few more minutes, she thought. She looked again at the Colonel, wanting him to know that she really had wanted to go. And she did. So much so that she was afraid of the wanting. She'd come close. Oh, so close to accepting that invitation.
"I see," said O'Neill, interrupting her thoughts. "So, you were, ah, considering . . ."
"Yes. I mean, like you said–"
"Yes. Nothing wrong with that. Right."
Sam fell silent and thought again of his invitation. Of the thrill that had zinged through her when she realized he wasn't just telling her of his plans, he was including her in them. Asking her to join him. Asking her to come to his special place. And how he'd looked so disappointed when she'd turned him down. And how much she'd hated to turn him down. So much so that she'd, for the first time in her adult life, had stomped relentlessly down on her "good officer" and chased after him. She'd opened her mouth, fully intending to take him up on his offer, and then been stunned to hear herself wish him a "good time."
The smell of roasting fish roused her and Sam quickly pulled the fish out of the embers. She set it carefully on a rock and opened the charred leaves, waving the steam away. Letting it sit to cool for a moment, Sam looked over to find O'Neill watching her, and he wasn't empty-handed. He had set aside his fishing pole and was holding a plate out toward her. On it was piled a mixture of the vegetables the People ate daily and next to that . . . Sam looked up into his brown eyes. A pile of neatly sliced meat.
It wasn't steaming, but it looked just as good as had the meat that first night when O'Neill had pulled her away from the buff young man who'd offered her a similar plate.
"Creeda packed me a picnic dinner."
"But, what about our fish?"
"No reason we can't have that, too. I wanted to surprise you, but then you caught that whopper. Then I thought we'd just have that, but I know how much you like this stuff, so . . ." O'Neill shrugged slightly, the plate rising and falling with the gesture.
Sam studied him for a long moment, unsure of what to do next. They'd joked for days about her near-miss in the tribal marriage-slash-mating game, and, though they kept it light, O'Neill insisted that at any large gathering he was the one to pass Sam anything. He insisted it didn't mean anything but then continued the practice at any communal meal. Just making sure, he'd said when she'd asked him.
Making sure of what, Sam didn't know, and wasn't certain she wanted to ask.
O'Neill held the plate higher, his eyes on hers, his gaze expectant. Sam slowly raised her hand and lifted off a thin slice. She rolled it up and bit into it, a small sigh of contentment escaping her lips. God, whatever it was they spiced this stuff with, she wanted some! Then again, maybe it was the server? She looked again up at O'Neill to find his gaze still on hers, unwavering. Sam took a deep breath and made a decision. She took the plate from him and then offered him the opportunity to take his own share.
As she had, he slowly lifted a single slice, rolled it up and popped it into his mouth. Like her, he let out a small sigh of satisfaction as he savored the unique taste. Her nerves suddenly getting the best of her, Sam made a process out of finding a good place upon which to set the plate, fighting the urge to reach out to catch the small dribble of juice hovering at the corner of his mouth. She glanced up at him and then quickly away as his tongue flicked out to catch the errant drip.
"I, um. I'm pretty sure the fish is ready," she said quietly. She slid some of the flaky white fish onto a plate he held out, then offered it to him. As they had done with the meat, they repeated with the fish. This time O'Neill took a small portion and then took the plate from her so Sam could do the same. As she ate the delicate, still steaming fish, Sam tried not to focus on how ritualistic their meal had become.
How . . . intimate.
The only thing missing was her feeding him and vice-versa, and Sam immediately clamped down on that thought. It was just dinner. Just food. No big deal. He'd offered some to her and she'd done the same. End of discussion. And yet . . . for one moment, it had felt like so much more.
While her thoughts whirled, they continued to share their meal, each eating from both plates, sometimes Sam lifting one, sometimes the Colonel. It didn't seem to occur to either to split the portions between the two plates and eat separately. Or if it did occur to the Colonel he never acted on it, and for that Sam was grateful.
All too soon the delicious food was gone and Sam sat back again against the tree, content.
"Didja get enough?" O'Neill's voice was soft in the velvety darkness.
"Yes, thanks. Did you?"
"Yup." The Colonel tossed another log onto the fire, seemingly as loathe as was Sam to leave their spot. He leaned back against their tree and let out a long sigh. "Still, could've used some beer."
"Or a s'more." Sam looked over to find him facing her, his eyes on hers, and the relaxed smile slowly slipped from her face. The firelight rendered them dark, swallowing the warm brown she'd come to admire so much. He had a day's growth of beard on his face and had never looked more appealing to her. Their faces were inches apart and Sam could feel his breath on her face. This, she thought. This is why I turned down his invitation. Because it would be so easy, so easy to just lean forward and . . ..
Breaking his gaze, Sam tipped her head back and rested it on the tree, closing her eyes. Very slowly she let herself lean into him, into the solid strength of him, and was pleased more than was reasonable that he just as gently leaned back, matching her pressure. Shoulder-to-shoulder they sat, a fire to one side and a chuckling stream to the other. After a minute, she spoke again, her voice just as soft as his, "Beer. S'mores. Got it. Maybe next time."
"Count on it." His words were a promise.
"I will." She answered his promise with one of her own.
Author's note: I know that lots of folks have done the whole "a week on P3X-234" thing. I also know that expectations were high for this one as a Campfire, but I just couldn't see them going at it like rabbits 'cause they're stranded for a week. And it also occurred to me that so many of those stories involved Sam, Jack, and Teal'c being alone on that planet. Why? They've got a perfectly good Stargate that can take them anywhere! So . . . why not visit Teal'c's family?
And look! We're done with Season 3! On to Season 4 now! Woohoo!