Sam woke to the steady ting-ting-ting of rain on the cottage's tin roof. The tip of her nose was cold, so she pulled the heavy quilt up around her chin and leaned closer to the warm body next to her, trying to maximize the surface contact in order to steal as much heat as possible.
An arm slid across her waist and came to rest against her chest. "The message say what time Jacob was getting here?" Jack mumbled into her neck, his breath warming more than just the sensitive skin behind her ear.
"Some time this morning," she muttered back, not wanting to admit that she was already awake. It was a weekend and the sun hadn't yet broken the horizon. As happy as she'd be to see her father again, Sam wasn't quite ready to leave the warm cocoon of their bed to get ready for visitors just yet.
She slid her bare feet down between Jack's and felt him flinch.
"A little warning next time," he grouched and slipped his own hand under her shirt just to make her squirm. She pulled her knees up and pressed the blankets over her mouth to hold back the yelp as his cold hand brushed her breast and came to rest along her ribs.
"You are cruel, Jack." She tried to elbow him in retaliation but he had her pinned.
She could feel him grinning, his mouth still behind her ear. "And that wasn't?" He nipped at her earlobe. "Your feet are freezing."
She turned so he caught the corner of her mouth instead of her ear with the next kiss. "Then maybe you should warm them up," she suggested, planting her soles firmly against his shins. She felt him twitch on contact, but he didn't loosen his grip, going in for a second kiss, then a third. Abandoning all hope of taunting him with her feet, since they were already starting to warm, she rolled to face him and worked her hands under the waistband at the back of his shorts.
"Jesus," he gasped into her neck. "Where've you been keeping those things? In the freezer?" Sam shushed him with her lips on his and slid one hand up his back and around his neck to pull him closer. The rain played a white-noise concerto on the cottage roof and there was nobody around for miles to overhear them. Still, with all the long days they'd been putting in on the farm for Harlow and Anka this harvest season, having this time together was a luxury that she wanted to draw out for as long as possible.
Her mouth slowly worked its way from his left ear to his right and down his neck, teasing and tasting as she went. They moved quietly, the years of stealth in the field paying off in practice as a subtle nod here or a slow sigh there told him that what he was doing to her under the blankets with his fingers and his mouth was so very good. He had to have known just how much she was holding back and trying to make it last.
It wasn't until later that she realized she was no longer cold.
Jack hadn't been surprised when Daniel had missed their three-month check-in. Disappointed, yes. Maybe a little worried. But not at all surprised. Daniel had mentioned going to Abydos to spend time with Kasuf and Skaara, and time moved differently when your clock was the sun and the changing of the seasons, your calendar. Not that Daniel had ever been all that attentive to the watch on his wrist when he was engrossed in a project.
Jack had been surprised, however, to hear that Jacob would be calling. When the first message arrived that somebody had come through the gate looking for them, he'd been relieved that the visitor in question was described as an 'old man' and not a platoon of armed Jaffa.
Watching Jacob stand in the door yard with his rucksack sitting on the muddy ground beside him long after Harlow's eldest son had driven away in the wagon, Jack was having second thoughts.
Though he was fairly certain that Jacob could not see him watching from behind the shuttered window, Jack decided to break the stalemate.
"Sam," he called over his shoulder, "Dad's here."
Sam looked up from the plate she was drying. "I didn't hear him knock."
"He didn't," Jack said. "He's still standing in the yard."
"In the rain?" she asked. She threw the dish towel at him and went to lift the latch on the door. "You could have invited him in, you know."
"He doesn't look like he wants to come in," Jack muttered under his breath as Sam rushed out the door to greet her father. Jack was starting to suspect that maybe a platoon of Jaffa would have been preferable.
"So I'd hate to interrupt your little vacation here," Jacob said once the supper dishes were piled by the wash basin and the not-quite-coffee had been served. "But if we're going to take out Anubis once and for all, we need every ally we can coordinate on this one. We need to make sure that once we hit him, he can't pull back and regroup."
Jacob had made no secret that he'd come because there was business to discuss and that he'd be leaving first thing in the morning. Having a visitor, especially one who'd come a long distance, stay for a meal and to rest was just good hospitality on Rutan. To reject the invitation would be an insult, and even Jacob was aware that refusing their hospitality by returning through the gate the same day he'd arrived would be like setting up a neon sign advertising the fact that Jack and Sam weren't from around these parts.
"So where do we come in?" Jack asked.
Sam picked at the cobbler crumbs on Jack's plate. For all her many attempts at making pie, she'd never been able to get the crust past something to be used as targets for trap shooting; she'd always been too distracted by other things to give it the attention it needed, much to Anka's dismay. Jack made sure to mention how much he loved her cobblers each time she made them. The harvest had been a good one this year, and Anka had put Sam to work in her kitchen, teaching her how to preserve the fruit and sending her home with some of the spoils. There had been a lot of cobblers the last couple of weeks, though Jack was more interested in the conversation he'd recently overheard between the two women - the one where he thought he'd caught the word 'fermentation', and possibly 'wine'.
"What kind of resources are you looking at, Dad?" Sam asked. When she leaned over Jack's arm to swipe at his plate for the third time, he just handed it to her and tried to ignore Jacob squinting at them like he'd just caught a teenage Jack with his hands under his daughter's blouse at the supper table.
Whether Sam was oblivious to her father's stare, or was purposely ignoring him, Jack couldn't tell. He didn't know what she had told Jacob in the letter she'd sent along with Daniel when they'd last parted, but apparently his disapproval had had time to simmer.
"Dad?" Sam asked.
Jacob cleared his throat and took a sip from his mug. When he looked up at them again, Selmak did the talking. Jack wondered if Jacob was serving the Tok'ra equivalent of a timeout.
"The main assault on Anubis' forces will be carried out by a joint coalition of Tok'ra, Jaffa, and Tau'ri forces, which will be staged from your Delta site."
"Not our Delta site anymore," Jack said under his breath, which earned him a knee to his thigh under the table. But it was true. It hadn't been 'their' anything associated with Earth since Hammond had offered them the option of being exiled over being arrested for crimes they hadn't committed.
"We have intel on several secondary installations that we believe Anubis could withdraw to in the event that his annihilation is not secured." Selmak continued.
"And you want us to take out these locations?" Sam asked. She started stacking the supper plates with quick, efficient motions. Jack could tell that she wasn't exactly pleased with the idea.
Selmak held out his plate. "No."
Sam stopped stacking, and stared at him, ignoring the offered plate. "No?" she asked. "You came all this way to tell us that there's a plan in place to take out Anubis, but we're not invited to the party?"
Jack bit the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning and wondered, not for the first time, if maybe he should look at lining his old cap with tinfoil.
Selmak put the plate on the stack himself. "We need you for a more specialized job," he said, and waited for Sam to sit down again.
Under the table, Jack slipped his fingers through hers and gave them a quick squeeze, just a little touch to tell her he was here if she needed grounding. He knew there were things in their pasts they just didn't talk about, and Sam's experience with Anubis' Jaffa when they'd been captured was one of them. Jack was starting to wonder if maybe one of these days they should have a sit down.
"What do you have in mind?" Jack asked.
Selmak hesitated. "We need Major Carter's expertise to disable and help capture a weapon we believe that Anubis has been developing, and then assist with getting it working again for the Tok'ra. You," he nodded at Jack, "may come along as extra muscle."
Jack looked away and counted to ten, then another five for good measure. When he looked back, Selmak was studying the bottom of his cup.
Jack grabbed the stack of plates and headed over to the wash basin. "Always good to know where you stand with the in-laws, I guess," he muttered, knowing that he'd be overheard.
Jacob studiously pretended that he hadn't.
While he was putting away the last of the supper dishes, Jack saw Sam slip out the front door, but he figured she was probably tidying up the workshop for the night. Word had gotten around that her workmanship was sound and her rates reasonable, and Sam was starting to build up a bit of a business repairing farm implements and fabricating replacements parts for those she could not fix outright. Nothing so technologically advanced that they'd ping on any Goa'uld radar, but between Anka's tutelage on the finer points of canning and distilling and the repair business, she was busy, and from what Jack could tell, happier than when they'd first arrived.
When he opened the cottage door a crack and didn't see any lights on in the shed, he grabbed his jacket from the peg behind the door.
Their makeshift calendar on the back of the door said it was June back on Earth, but life on Rutan was slowly putting itself to bed for winter. The air was cold and crisp, which made for a clear view of the stars. If it weren't for the low stone wall at the edge of the yard, Jack might not have been able to tell where the sky ended and the ocean below them began. He tucked his hands into his pockets and shivered, noting that they'd need to add warmer coats to their list of supplies if they were going to stay up here at the cottage for the winter, instead of taking a room in one of Harlow's barns closer to town.
Jack kind of liked the idea of being snowed in with Sam and had told Harlow he'd discuss it with the boss and let him know. Harlow had laughed and clapped Jack on the shoulder, telling him that he supposed it wouldn't matter one way or the other, so long as he had some way to keep himself warm.
He found Sam around the corner of the cottage, piling another log from the woodpile onto the already sizable stack balanced in the crook of her arm.
"Oh good," she said. "You read my mind." She dumped the armload off on Jack and started filling her own arms again.
Jack watched her balance the stove lengths like she'd done at least a hundred times already this fall. There was never any shortage of work here to keep them busy.
"Going to be a cold one tonight," Jack threw out to test her mood. Either she had some inside scoop on the weather and was thus filling the wood box by the stove like they were going to be shut in for a few days, or she was covering up her dislike of Selmak's proposal.
"Anka thinks we'll get frost by the end of the week." She adjusted her armful of wood and reached for another log. "She says winter will be early and a long one this year." Jack could see her breath hang in the air between them and guessed that Anka could probably teach those guys who wrote the Farmer's Almanac a thing or two.
"I reckon we will," he said as he shifted his own armload of wood.
"You 'reckon', Jack?" she laughed, and he felt a bit of the tension in his shoulders ease. "I think you've been hanging around with Harlow and Jaro down at the bar too often."
He would have shrugged, but the load of wood was starting to get heavy. "You're saying I need a change of scenery?"
"I..." Sam tossed the last log back onto the wood pile and wrapped her free arm around her load. "I don't know what to make of Dad's request."
Jack was relieved that she'd gotten straight to the point. Jacob would be leaving in the morning, with or without an answer. While Jack was reluctant to give up the sanctuary of their temporary home, defeating the Goa'uld currently posting a price on their heads would give them a much needed bit of safety, though it would never convince their own government to withdraw the warrants for their arrests.
"Hey, don't ask me," Jack made a show of hoisting his armload. "I'm just here to be the extra muscle."
In the end, there hadn't been much of a debate. Though they could pretend all they wanted that they were living the idyllic life in their little cottage on the hill, as long as Anubis was still out there, it was still just a very comfortable prison.
They packed light and promised Harlow and Anka they'd be back in a week, if they were back at all.
Since they were no longer stuck with computer-generated planetary designations, Jack nicknamed the planet 'Endor'. There was nothing but redwoods, rain, and a secret Goa'uld research base, as far as he could tell. It seemed apropos.
Jack pulled one arm across his upper body with the other, trying to stretch the knots out of his back. It had been a long time since he'd slept on the hard, damp ground, and his body was busy protesting the fact. Sharing the cramped tent with Sam, while a lot more relaxed and definitely more pleasurable than on previous off-world missions, had not afforded him much space to settle himself between the rocks and trees roots poking into him from beneath the nylon floor.
Getting dressed this morning had been an adventure in and of its self. After the third near-miss between an elbow and an ear while rolling up their sleeping bag, Sam had used a few choice words and all but shoved him out of the tent.
She used to be a lot more forgiving about things like that.
Jacob handed him a mug, and Jack gave it a sniff. After being gone from Earth for this long, a steaming cup of coffee would've been nice, especially in this weather. If Jacob had been able to procure a couple of tents from the Delta site, why not a package or two of real coffee while he was at it? Their desire to keep a low profile meant that a fire was out of the question, not that there was dry wood to be found anyhow, so they'd had to settle for heating the water for the tea over a small can of Sterno. Somehow this didn't feel much like the touch of home he'd been hoping for.
Jack sipped his tea and tried to ignore the feeling that Jacob was studying him. He pulled the collar of the field jacket up to try to keep some of the rain from running down his neck and turned to their tent.
"Tea's getting… tepid," he called, wondering what Sam was still doing in there and why she was leaving him to suffer her father's probing stare all by himself. Not that they'd been doing anything wrong last night. Not by a long shot. The tent had been too damned small.
He suspected it was more likely that Jacob hadn't entirely forgiven him for leaving the Tok'ra and dragging Sam along with him. Jack wasn't sure how much Sam had told him about their capture and escape from Anubis' Jaffa, but he was having a hard time chalking this all up to a father's protectiveness.
Or it could just be Jacob yanking his chain.
Either way, he just wished Sam would hurry up and let him get back to standing around waiting for orders.
Sam finally appeared with both their backpacks in hand, looking very much like any other morning out in the field with her boots laced over her pant cuffs and her hair neatly braided and tucked under the green cap that had been with the cache of gear that Jacob had stashed on this planet.
Jack searched for some profound comment about how some of the best things never changed, but came up empty. He settled for "Carter," and handed her a mug.
The smile she gave him in return reminded him again of how much had actually changed since those last few missions when they were still SG-1. For starters, she would never have thanked him with that kiss on his cheek when she took the barely steaming mug from his hand. He watched her set their packs against the trunk of the redwood that was currently keeping the bulk of the rain off their heads and looked up to see Jacob watching them. He felt like this was a formal inspection and he was the one being assessed.
Definitely wasn't all in his head.
"So do we know the game plan for today?" he asked. They'd left their comfortably warm home on a relatively dry planet for this mission with a pretty slim itinerary. He didn't want to spend the day standing out in the rain, waiting around for the Tok'ra to show up.
"Because of the warrant for your arrest by the Tau'ri, we could not stage this mission from the Delta site as originally planned," Selmak answered.
Jack's gut tightened, and he felt Sam reach over and give his hand a quick squeeze before she wrapped it around her mug and took a sip. It was the only indication that she was aware of his discomfort around Selmak, even after all this time. He thought he'd hidden that well from her, but apparently she could still see right through his carefully neutral facade.
If Selmak noticed, he was much better at covering than Jacob was. Or he didn't care. "So we'll be meeting the landing party at the rendezvous point a half day's walk from here," he continued. "At that time, we'll regroup and discuss the plan with the rest of the team."
"But basically, we're just going to go in there and blow the place up."
"Yes, Jack." Jacob sounded somewhat less patient than his symbiote. "Basically we're just going to blow the place up."
Even though the clothes felt familiar, without the P-90 clipped to her vest, Sam didn't know what to do with her hands. She still had her old Zat strapped to her thigh, but that wasn't the same as having the firepower right at her fingertips as they slogged their way up yet another blind and slippery hill.
Her shoulders were sore from being hunched against the continuous rain. The heavy Tok'ra cloaks they wore against the weather had been fine for the light drizzle most of the morning, but by the time they'd stopped for a quick lunch of rations, the skies had opened up and she was thoroughly drenched. She hoped they wouldn't have to wait long for the cargo ship so they could finally dry out.
Sam hooked her thumbs under the shoulder straps of her pack and slowed as her father crouched down at the top of the ridge ahead of her. Jack brushed past her and pulled out a small pair of binoculars.
He studied the ship in the small clearing below. "That your people?" he asked as Sam hunkered down between the two men. Although Jack and her father had never been big on the deep meaningful conversations, they'd been almost as frosty as the weather back on Rutan towards each other today. That, and not her hunched shoulders, was probably the source of the headache pulsing behind her eyes at the moment.
"Well, the plan was to meet them at these coordinates, so there's a pretty good chance it's them," Jacob answered slowly as if he was explaining big words to a small child. He pulled out a small hand-held scanning device from under his cloak and held it out. "No life signs in the area, other than the people in the ship." He tucked the scanner away.
Sam had tried to brush it off and chalk it up to the pressure Jacob and Selmak were under from the High Council to complete the mission when Jack had brought it up last night, but she couldn't help but notice the change in him since his visit to the cottage. Selmak was as warm and as enigmatic as ever, but her father had been distant, holding her at arms length, liked he'd done before the blending. Something was up with him.
Sam frowned. "I'm just surprised they're not cloaked."
Jack opened his mouth and Sam was sure that whatever he was going to say wouldn't earn him a spot in her father's good books at the moment. She'd seen Jack clench his jaw just a moment ago.
She touched his elbow and gave her head a slow half-shake, asking him not to antagonize Jacob right now. Not before the mission had even technically started. Jack squinted back at her and then settled himself behind the cover of the tall grass with his binoculars to check the tree line for himself.
Sam's temples throbbed.
Rain soaked through her hat and stuck wisps of hair to her neck and around her ears. She fought the urge to fuss at it so her movement didn't blow their meager cover and realized that she missed the simplicity of short hair in the field. She understood why Jack had never replaced his worn and faded cap; with familiarity comes a certain measure of safety. Not having to account for an ill-fitting hat meant having your hands free for more important things.
Sam touched the zat strapped to her thigh again, checking to make sure it was secure. She unsnapped the safety strap, checked that she could pull the weapon free, then replaced it and snapped the safety strap back into place. She shifted her weight from one knee to the other and watched the clearing. Still no movement along the tree line and the ship looked deserted. Sam looked over at Jack, who was still looking through the binoculars. On her other side, her father had the scanner out again and was checking readings. He hadn't offered to share it with her and Sam hadn't asked, even though she would have liked to have something more productive to do right now. The Tok'ra were very proprietary about their technology, and as much as she knew Jacob would indulge her the look, now was not the time to push him.
Her hand wandered back down to the holster's safety strap again. Snapped it open. Slid the weapon free. Secured it back in place. Snapped the strap open again. She felt her father's eyes on her and snapped the strap shut again.
Jacob opened his mouth, no doubt to remind her of the need for stealth, but his scanner chirped. He studied the small screen, tapped a button, and waited. Another chirp a few seconds later and he nodded.
"Confirmed," he said. "It's them."
"So…" Sam waited for him to elaborate.
"So, the front door is unlocked, and they're putting out the welcome mat," Jacob replied. He picked up his backpack and started down the hill, not bothering to make sure they were following.
"You'd think," Jack said under his breath as offered her a hand and pulled her to her feet, "since we're all on the same side, there'd be a little more love going around. A little more sharing."
Sam shouldered her pack. "You'd think he'd let us in on the plan, at least."
The outer airlock door closed behind them. Sam shook the water off her cloak as best as she could in the confined space. She tucked it back so her side arm was accessible. Her father might have declared the cargo ship friendly, but with all the secrecy of the mission, Sam didn't know who all the players were and didn't want to be taken by surprise. In front of her, Jack took his cloak off and dumped it on the floor. She watched him loosen the safety strap on his own zat and was glad she wasn't the only one feeling a tiny bit paranoid.
Jack looked back over his shoulder at her and she nodded. She had his back.
The inner door swished open and they followed Jacob inside. Sam couldn't see much. She almost ran into the Jack when he stopped suddenly.
"O'Neill." There was no mistaking that deep voice. Sam let out the breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding and edged her way past Jack to get a good look at Teal'c.
"Major Carter." Teal'c reached out to rest his hands on her shoulders, but Sam ignored the formality of his greeting and pulled him into a tight hug.
"Teal'c. Buddy. Didn't expect to see you hanging around these parts'" Jack said. "What drags you away from the struggles of the Jaffa resistance?"
"Jacob Carter made an offer I could not refuse," he answered. He seemed to draw himself taller. "The opportunity to defeat one of the largest oppressors of the Jaffa people."
Daniel stuck his head around the doorframe of the cargo hold. "You told me it was because you wanted to see Jack and Sam again, because you didn't believe that 'they could be cohabitating without significant conflict'."
Teal'c pretended not to hear the comment.
"Daniel." Sam finally shoved the zat back into its holster and took off the sopping cloak. She'd been worried when he'd missed his check-in, and with no way to get in touch with him except taking a trip to Abydos that might blow their cover, Sam had been seriously rethinking their decision not to go with him when he'd left.
Daniel took his glasses from where they'd been resting atop his head and put them on. "Hey, Sam." He embraced her warmly. "Things going well?" he asked so only she could hear.
"Yeah, Daniel," she whispered back. "Things are going well. Really well." She pulled back. "How's Kasuf and Skaara?"
"Well, Skaara's getting married," he answered. "Kasuf is thrilled. He's presiding over the whole affair as if it were a pharaoh's nuptials."
Jack's eyebrows shot up. "Really? Our boy's all grown up now, I guess. Nice girl?" he asked, and Sam thought that he sounded almost too casual. She'd tried hard over the last year to ignore all the milestones and the anniversaries that had come and gone for the people she loved back home, but it stung to be reminded that they were missing so many important moments.
"Yeah," Daniel answered. "Nice girl. Big family. They have a big heard of grazing animals, so he's going to have his hands full, but he's happy, Jack."
Jack nodded. "Well good. That's good then." He turned to Teal'c. "And how's Rya'c?" he asked lightly.
"Rya'c is well." Teal'c tilted his head slightly, and Sam caught the frown. "He too is courting a young woman."
"No kidding," Jack said. "Time sure does fly. One minute you're tripping over them, the next, they're bringing home the grandkids for you to trip over. Kind of makes you feel…" he clapped his hands together and looked around the room, searching for the right word. "Old?"
Sam winced and happened to look up at her father. Jacob did not seem amused. She loved Jack, but sometimes his sense of humor bordered on inappropriate. She was sure that last crack, while probably more self-deprecating than anything, was the reason her father was squinting at her from across the room.
She sighed. Once this mission was over, she'd have to sit down with her father, just the two of them, and straighten things out.
"So that's the plan." Jacob leaned over the blueprints spread over the top of a crate in the cargo hold. "We split into two teams. Daniel and Sam, you're with me. Jack and Teal'c, you're going to set up here," he tapped a corridor on the blueprint, "and provide cover in case we have company. From this intersection, you should have a good line of sight down all three corridors." He dragged his finger across the page, indicating the three passageways.
"I don't like it," Jack stated. All eyes in the small room turned towards him. He pointed to a spot on the blueprints. "This corridor here leaves you vulnerable from behind."
Jacob considered the point on the map. "We don't have enough manpower to cover everything. Selmak and I will keep an eye of the back door."
"Jacob," Jack said, "I hate to be the one to remind you, but you're technically only one man."
In the back of Jacob's mind, Selmak chuckled. Jacob tried not to roll his eyes at his symbiote's sense of humor. On any other day, he might also have appreciated the quip, but not today. Too much was at stake if this plan failed, and he'd put too much on the line with the High Council to bring in the people and the resources he knew could accomplish this job. He liked Jack O'Neill well enough, had a lot of respect for the man who'd helped save his life on more than one occasion, but there were times he missed wearing the general's stars so he could knock the colonel back into line.
Selmak stirred slightly and gently suggested that his lack of appreciation for the colonel's sense of humor had less to do with the jokes he was telling, and more to do with who was trying very hard to hide the fact that she had just smiled at said jokes.
Jacob reminded Selmak that this wasn't the time for that discussion either.
"We don't have much choice, Jack," Jacob said, ignoring Selmak. "All our other operatives are tied up elsewhere. This strike needs to be coordinated with the other attacks on Anubis' assets so we can take him down on all fronts simultaneously."
"Jack, we'll be fine," Sam leaned over the blueprints, shoulder touching Jack's in the tight space. "This here," she pointed, "indicates that these are blast doors. I should be able to secure them from one of these consoles here." She tapped a corner in the room that was their intended target. "If that fails, we'll shut them manually and blow the controls." She looked around the makeshift table, and Daniel and Teal'c both nodded their agreement.
Jack rubbed the back of his neck, not entirely convinced.
"Jack..." Sam said. Jacob watched Jack's shoulders fall and knew that he'd been won over, not by the logic of Jacob's arguments, but by the plea hidden in that simple word. Right there was the heart of his inquietude. These two thought they were invincible together.
Jack glanced at Sam and then turned to Jacob. "Okay then. Let's gear up."
Jacob hoped it wouldn't be their downfall.
Jacob looked up from the crate of weapons he was sorting through to find Sam watching him, one hand twisting at the fingers of her other. He handed her one of the P-90's from the crate and couldn't help but feel a small measure of satisfaction at how her eyes lit up as she inspected the weapon. At least there was still something that he could recognize in her. He hadn't raised either of his kids to quit when things got tough, and he still couldn't understand why she'd chosen to run.
"What's up, Kiddo?" he asked. When she'd left, it hadn't been on the best of terms. He'd asked her to stay with the Tok'ra to continue working to oust the system lords, but she'd stubbornly insisted on sticking with her team, even though they knew Jonas was planning on going back to Kelowna and Teal'c had already left. She'd always been determined; once she'd chosen a path, she'd follow it to the end, no matter how many times she'd get knocked down along the way.
Selmak reminded him that sometimes larvae don't swim far from the spawning grounds, but Jacob brushed him off. Now was not the time for introspection.
Sam took the case of ammunition Jacob offered and loaded the weapon. With her eyes still on the P-90 as her fingers checked the safety, she asked, "Did you get the letter I sent? With Daniel?"
The question came off sounding innocent enough.
Jacob sighed loudly. He knew it annoyed her, but it gave him space to frame his answer. If years of being a father had taught him one thing, it was that once the words were out of your mouth, there were no do-overs. Bark first and ask for an explanation later had always been his parenting style, with lesser degrees of success.
"Yeah, I got it," he answered. "Though it would have been better to hear it from you in person."
"Dad-" Sam finally looked up from the weapon and Jacob held up a hand.
"Sam, it's okay. I get it." He reached back into the crate for a second P-90. "I'm just a little old fashioned. In my day, a young man usually went and asked the father for his daughter's hand."
Jacob watched her open her mouth to protest, only to close it again firmly and look away, as if she couldn't decide whether he was serious, or just pulling her leg. Selmak scolded him and reminded him to play nice. Jacob passed her the P-90. "Not that he's exactly a young man."
"Dad!" Sam stacked the weapons with enough force that he thought she might damage something. Her brisk but too-sharp movements as she inventoried the rest of the weapons crate reminded Jacob so much of the time he'd came home on leave, only to inform his wife that his deployment over-seas had been extended. If he recalled correctly, they'd had to go shopping for a new set of dishes just before he'd shipped out again.
He put a hand on her shoulder and waited until she put the last of the boxes of ammunition down. "No, really, Sam. I'm glad you're happy." He just hoped that she wasn't acting out of some stubborn sense of loyalty to her former team, or rather, one member in particular.
Sam bit her lip and looked away. When she looked back at him again, she asked soberly, "Then this isn't going to be a problem when we're out there, is it?"
Jacob shrugged. "I hope not."
They met suspiciously little resistance when they entered the compound, and that made Jack nervous. Only the torch flames seemed to flicker their acknowledgement as the group passed.
Beside him, Teal'c checked the safeties on the pair of P-90s he carried.
"Hey, what happened to the staff weapon?" Jack asked. It had been such an integral fixture on missions over the years that Teal'c seemed incomplete without it.
Teal'c frowned at the ballistic weapons in his hand and answered, "There is a shortage of weapons amongst the rebel Jaffa. Rya'c now bears the responsibility of passing my staff on to the next generation of warriors."
Jack spared him a glance in between checking the doorways and the shadows and decided that he didn't like this newly fatalistic Teal'c. "Things aren't going so good with the resistance?" he asked as he watched Jacob stop at the end of the dark corridor and check that the next intersection was clear. He'd tried not to notice Sam talking to her father earlier, but whatever she'd said to him, Jacob seemed to have thawed a bit. Or maybe it was having Daniel and Teal'c around to distract him. Whatever the case, now that they had gotten down to the business at hand, they'd all started settling back into their old, if slightly worn, roles.
Teal'c considered his question. "There has been a number of Jaffa who have defected to the resistance of late, but there have been a growing number returning to their Goa'uld masters, as well. They slip out from the camps in the middle of the night or set out on missions, never to return."
"And you're sure they aren't getting caught in the crossfire?" Jack checked the corridor behind them, but it was still clear.
Teal'c shone the light from one P-90 in a small alcove as they passed. "Some of these traitors have been seen groveling at their master's feet for pardon." His voice softened. "One can not fill the bellies of one's children with only the promises of freedom. Of this I know well."
"That sounds an awful lot like Bratac's brand of trash-talk, there."
Up ahead Sam and Daniel were working the keypad beside a recessed door. They'd reached their target. Teal'c and Jack took up their positions on each side of the hallway.
"Master Bratac fears that we will lose many of our warriors before the battle has even begun. Defeating Anubis will send a message to the defectors that there is indeed hope for a free Jaffa people."
"Teal'c. Buddy. I'm hurt," Jack said. "Here I thought you'd come along because you'd missed us. Turns out, it's all a Jaffa revenge thing."
Across the corridor, Teal'c rolled his eyes and grunted, "Indeed."
Daniel studied the console in front of him while Sam made the circuit of the room, searching for the weapon.
"Wait, I think I've found it," he said. He scrolled through the text on the screen and pointed to a line when Sam leaned over his shoulder for a closer look. "It looks like we need to go down one level from here. The main power core and the control crystals are just below the control room. If I'm reading this right, that's where the weapon is."
"That wasn't on the blueprints," she said. Sam turned to where Jacob was standing watch at the open back door. "Dad, we've got a bit of a problem here."
Jacob joined then around the console, looking visibly worried. "The plans should be correct. They were stolen by one of our most trusted operatives."
Daniel flipped to another screen. "Well it looks like either your operative was mistaken, or the blueprints are wrong."
Sam leaned closer to the screen Daniel had called up. "No, he's right. These power conduits here," she traced a line on the screen, "leave this room and go through the floor here. Daniel, can you bring up a view of the lower level?"
Daniel hit a few keys and stepped back from the console to give Sam a better view.
"There's an access hatch over there," she pointed to the corner, near the back door, "but the room doesn't look like it was meant for people. It's more of a maintenance space. That may be why we missed it on the blueprints."
Jacob was already at the back of the room, opening a small panel beside the back door. "Got it," he said as he shone a flashlight into the dark space. "There's a ladder down to a catwalk that goes under this floor. There's not going to be room for all of us, though."
Sam joined him and peered down into the shaft. "It's going to be tight," she agreed. She unclipped the P-90 from her vest and handed it to Jacob. Dropping her pack to the floor, she took out a small tool pouch and tucked it into her vest. "Daniel?" she asked, throwing a leg over the lip of the shaft opening, not waiting to see if he was going to follow.
"Right." He unclipped his own weapon and propped it against the wall. He had to admit, he preferred his old handgun for the weight and accuracy; if he had to shoot something, he only wanted to do it once, but in the game of underground resistance fighter, beggars couldn't be choosers. He wasn't usually the first to advocate carrying the heaviest firepower they could find, but something about this unaccounted for access hatch made the small hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
He just hoped they would be able to do something simple and quick, like pull the control crystals, and not have to dismantle the entire room to retrieve the weapon. Once Sam had cleared the bottom of the ladder, he began to climb down after her.
If there had been time, Sam would have kicked herself.
She'd been too eager, wanting too much to complete the mission and help defeat Anubis so they wouldn't have to hide any more. She'd wanted to please her father. To earn back his approval. She'd wanted to get out there and do something more than just sitting around, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
As she dropped down into the maintenance space and swung her flashlight around, she knew they'd been had. The crawlspace was dark and quiet, not filled with the warm technological hum of power conduits or the soft glow of control crystals. There was nothing to indicate that the space had ever housed a weapon of any kind, unless maybe it had to be assembled from the flotsam of bent wires and spent containers of who knew what littering the floor.
"Daniel," she shouted over her shoulder. "Fall back. There's nothing here."
"What?" Daniel's voice was muffled above her. "But we just saw it on the plans."
She swung the flashlight around the space one more time and headed back to the ladder. "The plans were wrong. Let's get out of here and take a look at them again. There might be some clue-"
She thought she must have tripped, because suddenly she was on the floor and had to blink to clear the stars that exploded when she moved her head.
But that couldn't be right because there was noise and the air smelled tangy, like she'd just been standing too close to a gate capacitor after it overloaded. An electrical discharge, maybe? Daniel was calling her name, then her father's. Shouting her name now. He didn't need to panic like that.
She tasted blood and licked her lips, felt the raw spot where she'd bitten down hard. She must have just taken a bad step; she'd be up the ladder in a second once she got back on her feet, and why did the place smell like it was on fire?
The smell tripped a signal in her brain and instinct kicked in, pushing her to get up and get moving. There was noise, some shouting, maybe from her, maybe it was Daniel.
This time she saw the energy blast as it streaked past her head and scored the wall in front of her. Sam spared a glance over her shoulder and saw the dark figure with the glowing blue eyes backlit by her dropped flashlight.
Then she was up the ladder and Daniel pulled her through the hatch with his fingers twisted into her jacket so tight it made her gasp as the fabric pulled at her ribs and under her arms. She landed in a heap and struggled to catch her breath, feeling like she'd sprinted out to the north field and not scrambled up a mere five-foot ladder.
She looked up from the floor to see her father firing down through the hatch. 'Fish in a barrel,' she thought, but it sounded a lot like Jack's voice in her head. Habit made her check the doorway for him, but the door was closed and Daniel was talking in her face, only she couldn't understand what he was asking her and the door wasn't supposed to be closed.
Daniel left her and she watched him struggle with her father to put the cover back on the access hatch. Already the metal was glowing red-hot and Daniel was holding the panel in place with his elbows and his hands pulled up into his sleeves as her father worked at the bolts. Whatever they had trapped down there was not going to be stopped by a piece of sheet metal and a handful of thumbscrews. Sam tried to stand up so she could help them, but as she rolled over onto her knees, she saw the back door sliding down its track.
If they didn't get out of there now, they were going to be the fish.
She just couldn't seem to get her legs to follow orders and lead a retreat.
"Dad," she shouted.
"We're a little busy here, Sam," Jacob shouted back, fumbling and dropping a thumbscrew. When he reached down to grab it off of the floor, he saw where she was pointing. "Daniel, forget about it. We've got to go."
"Jacob?" Daniel asked, but he was already grabbing Sam by the vest. He'd turned into such a good little soldier, their Daniel, and sometimes she regretted all the losses along the way that got him there, but right now it was keeping them alive.
The extra tug was all the momentum she needed to get her feet moving, and it seemed to her that she flew towards the back door, legs pin-wheeling like Roadrunner, trying to make it to the hallway before the blast doors closed.
She felt Daniel shove her, and then she was back on the floor again, and if Jack were there he'd have some joke about that. He wasn't, so she did her best to get out of Daniel's way as he ducked under the door, because whatever they'd unleashed was right behind them.
Jacob was through the door and pulled the pin on a grenade, and from where Sam lay, she could see a tightness come over his face. Not a smile, exactly, but he was fearless as she'd never seen him, and for a moment she wasn't sure if it was Selmak covering their asses or a side of her father she'd never witnessed. Maybe a little of both, but that thought slipped away as he flung his body in front of hers and yelled at her to 'cover up'.
The grenade went off while the blast door was clearing the last twelve inches. Sam felt the concussion and the heat, but it was peripheral to the burning coming from under her vest with each breath.
Smoke wafted from the room, but was cut off as the door slid solidly in place, doing its job a few seconds too late.
Sam's ears rang in the silence that followed.
Jack had expected shooting at some point in the mission.
He just didn't expect it to come from behind them.
"Crap." He took a quick look down the corridor he and Teal'c had been covering; hoping it had been had been some trick of the acoustics, but the polished floor only reflected the clichéd flickering Goa'uld torches back at him.
By the time he reached the control room, Teal'c was trying to pry the door open. The door that was supposed to stay open, according to the plan.
Jack tried to tell himself that the tightness in his gut was concern for his team, his whole team, but that was a load of bull.
He knew this plan was a bad idea. Knew it, but gone with it anyway because she'd asked.
There was shouting from the other side of the door. Possibly Jacob, probably Daniel. Jack wasn't entirely sure. There was too much noise.
Teal'c wasn't able to make any headway with the door and Jack wasn't wasting any more time. He pulled a chunk of C4 and a detonator from his vest and set the charge.
They were inside before the smoke had cleared, but the room was quiet and empty. The battle had been quick, but fierce, and all that remained were the scorch marks and the blood on the wall.
Jack's knees locked, his feet refusing to take him over to the P-90 propped against the wall. He felt Teal'c's strong hand on his shoulder and forced in a deep breath. After all the years of cursing them, he knew with the perfect clarity of hindsight why the rules prohibited personal relationships between members of the same command.
Because Jack O'Neill never froze.
And now a red smear and a twisted and melted hatch cover had nearly brought him to his knees.
"I'm okay." Sam pushed Daniel's hand away from the tear in her vest. "I'm fine, really."
Daniel had heard that line from each and every one of his former teammates before. He'd even used it himself a time or two, so he knew that if Sam was well enough to brush off his attempt at a wound-check, she was probably okay for the time being. Still, he didn't like how the shadows under her eyes seemed deeper, or how she was holding her self ever so still to keep the singed fabric away from her skin. SG-1 had always had different interpretations of 'fine'. He suspected this version was a bit closer to 'I can walk out of here under my own power but after that I'm going to collapse' than 'it's just a scratch' kind of fine.
He'd be keeping a close eye on her.
Jacob wiped a hand over his brow and Daniel caught the slight tremor as he did. Selmak had been the oldest of the Tok'ra when Jacob was first blended with him and it looked like this latest close call had taken a lot out of both of them.
"Jacob," Daniel said. "You okay?"
Jacob grunted as he got to his feet. "Yeah, fine. Just a few scratches. Sam?"
He dipped his head and appeared to be conversing with Selmak. Daniel turned to look at Sam and she gave him a stiff half-shrug from where she was sitting with her back against the wall. Apparently the 'I'm fine' dance was also a Carter routine.
Jacob grunted again, apparently not liking the direction the conversation was going, and went to inspect the damage to the blast door. He'd just taken the control panel cover off when they heard the explosion from inside the control room.
Jacob took position on the other side of the hallway with his P-90 and Daniel drew his zat and stepped in front of Sam.
"Hey," she whispered. Daniel glanced down to see her holding out her hand. He took it and let her use him as leverage to pull herself to her feet. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard, then nodded to him as she tucked herself against the wall and drew her own zat. She wasn't fooling him one bit.
Daniel checked over his shoulder, but the corridor might as well have been a dead end. There was a pair of doors, both of them shut, and, judging by the keypad next to each one, probably locked.
The blast door opened with a whoosh, drawing air from the corridor and clearing some of the lingering smoke. Teal'c and Jack were on the other side, their own weapons raised.
Daniel was the first to lower his weapon.
"Forgot something?" Jack raised an eyebrow and held out the pair of P-90s they had abandoned in their mad rush for the door. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel saw Sam sag against the wall a little.
"I knew I felt a little light," he said and passed Sam her weapon. Maybe it was his imagination, but she seemed to pull herself up straighter when Jack's eyes darted her way. They hadn't changed as much as he'd thought, apparently.
"It appears that we have been led into a trap," Teal'c said. Daniel could see the twisted remains of the main control room door behind him.
Jack turned to Jacob. "Yeah, about that." He rested his hand on the butt of his weapon.
"I don't know, Jack." He shook his head. "Selmak is of the opinion that the weapon is actually that thing that was chasing us."
Teal'c and Jack turned at the same time to look at the smoking heap on the floor in the otherwise empty control room. "That thing?" Jack asked, his eyebrow creeping up further.
"'That thing' was waiting for us in the maintenance space under the floor. Some sort of soldier or a drone. Dad got lucky with the explosives," Sam explained.
Teal'c turned back to the mess just inside the doorway. "Apparently," he said. "You are certain it was not Jaffa?"
"Pretty sure," Daniel answered. "I know Jacob hit him a few times, but it didn't seem to slow him down."
"Perhaps some sort of advanced body armor?" Teal'c considered.
"I don't think so." Sam looked as if she had a theory, but Jack held up a hand.
"Wait a minute…maintenance space?" he asked. "I don't recall any maintenance space on the blueprints."
"There wasn't," Sam said. "Daniel found some schematics in the database."
Jack turned on her. "And you just decided that it would be a good idea to wander on down there and check it out."
"We," she emphasized, "thought that there was a good chance that the weapon, or its control crystals, or whatever, might be located down there since it wasn't on the main floor. The schematics indicated a power source, so it was a logical guess. So, yes," her voice rose, "I thought it was a good idea at the time."
Jack took a step forward. "You didn't stop to consider that it might be an ambush? That one of you might have gotten hurt? That we have no backup on this mission, Carter."
Sam cut a quick glance his way, but Daniel didn't interrupt. There were very few times that Jack and Sam ever disagreed in the field over the years, but when they did, it wasn't usually this spectacular. Even Teal'c seemed to be following the argument with interest, eyebrow raised.
"You think I don't know that?" Sam took a few steps back until she was surreptitiously leaning against the wall. She was face to face with Jack, the rest of them seemingly forgotten. "But you heard my dad; you know how critical this mission is. If there was a chance we could retrieve this mystery weapon of Anubis' that might give us the advantage over the rest of the Goa'uld, we had to take the risk. You would have done the same thing."
Jack pulled his cap off and adjusted the already battered bill. He looked like he was about to argue, but turned away as he put his hat back on. Daniel thought he heard him mutter something like, "Not any more."
Selmak spoke up. "Whether it was prudent or not, the primary focus of this mission still remains."
Daniel was relieved by the interruption. He'd been starting to feel like a bit of a voyeur.
"Anubis' security forces may be aware of our presence now, but the destruction of this facility is still our main objective. Major Carter, Dr. Jackson," Selmak nodded in his direction, "and Teal'c. You will proceed to the power core and set the charges. Colonel O'Neill, you and I will take care of the research laboratories." He checked his watch. "We rendezvous in thirty minutes."
Jack tried to ignore the mess in the control room as they went their separate ways. One look was enough to confirm how close a call this had been. He was well past feeling uneasy about this mission, and seeing Carter standing there, pale, but in one piece, trying to pretend they'd gotten away scot-free wasn't helping. He was pretty sure that the drone hadn't bled all over the wall like that.
At least she and Daniel were with Teal'c. And nowhere near the research labs. He knew that after months of living the pioneer life, it wouldn't take much for Carter to get distracted by the first flashy thing with a screen and buttons.
Jack wanted to order them back. Call off the mission. Or at least pull back a bit and take some time to regroup. He knew Daniel was covering for Carter, but he didn't know if was because she'd asked him to, or if he was doing it out of some misguided sense of loyalty. Jack could tell something wasn't right by the stiffness in her walk as he watched them disappear down the corridor. Unfortunately, he couldn't order them to do anything, only hope that all those years as their leader would influence them in some way.
"So," he said to Jacob as they set off in the other direction. "Bad intel, or secret agenda on the part of the Council?"
Jacob hesitated, and in that moment he looked like he was carrying the weight of his and Selmak's combined years on his shoulders. "I don't know Jack. I really don't."
They stopped at an intersection while Jacob consulted a plaque on the wall. Jack wondered if maybe it was Goa'uld for 'You are Here'. They took the corridor to the right.
"Selmak and I only got wind of the plan for the coordinated attack on Anubis after the Council had voted on it."
"Aren't you two on the council?" Jack stopped and looked at him. "Shouldn't you have had a vote?" Jacob didn't slow, and Jack had to jog a few steps to catch up.
"We are, or at least we thought we were." Jacob stopped outside a set of double doors and opened the keypad. "A lot of things have happened since you've been out of contact." Jacob looked at him sideways as he punched in a code. "As much as the Tok'ra won't like me admitting it, they preferred dealing with you, Jack. They don't trust the rest of the Tau'ri, and after what they did to you and Sam, I can't say I blame them much."
"I'm flattered, Jacob, really I am, but where does that leave Earth?" Jack took another piece of C4 out of his vest and attached a detonator. "There's still good people at the SGC, or there were. They need all the allies they can get."
The doors slid open. Even by the dim light of the computer displays, Jack could see that Carter would've been in her glory.
He recognized less than half the gadgets and screens and tanks and tubes, understood barely a quarter of what those did, but it was clear that whatever Anubis had been experimenting with here, it would be a good idea to destroy it. They didn't have time to calculate the tactical advantage of grabbing any of the technology for further study; he figured that some of this stuff was better left alone.
Jacob hesitated in front of a bank of data crystals, eyeing them like a child in front of a display of penny candy with his allowance burning a hole in his pocket.
"The Tok'ra scientists might be able to decipher Anubis' research," Jacob said. "We might be able to find out more about this weapon he's building."
Jack winced. He knew that look well. Maybe he should have brought Teal'c instead.
He tossed Jacob the bag of explosives. "I guess it comes down to knowing who you can trust with it."
Sam had to admit that when the power core blew, the explosion was spectacular.
Even from behind the embankment where they'd taken cover, she could feel the heat wash over her, drying the rain from her skin and making her lips crack when she smiled.
They'd almost reached the end of the thirty minute window when Jack had slid down the muddy slope beside her and handed her the detonator. He really knew how to make a girl feel special.
With a quick glance that everyone was accounted for, she held her breath, flipped the switch.
The first explosions were tiny; they wouldn't even have heard them if the rain hadn't let up, leaving indecisive droplets to hang in the air in a fine mist.
But the charges had been carefully placed for maximum impact, destabilizing the reaction enough that the balance of electrons tipped, rending protons from molecules, necessitating the release of energy in magnitudes the reactor had never been designed to control.
And it was beautiful.
God, she'd missed this.
She felt her cheeks glowing as the base burned. She turned to Jack and held out the detonator, but he ignored it, studying her as if she'd grown a third eye. When he did reach out, it was to brush a hand over her cheek and rest it on her brow.
His fingers were cool and she leaned into his hand, wondering how he could feel as refreshing as a chilled glass of Anka's lemonade against her temple after a long day working the garden.
"Mmm?" The ground shifted under her and she took a step to catch her footing.
Jack's other hand grabbed her by the vest. "Carter, you're burning up." He looked past her, whether questioning Daniel, or accusing him, she didn't know. She turned to reassure Daniel that it was okay, the mission was a success, and they could give up the pretense. The world tilted.
"I think I got hit," she said as he helped her to the ground. Thunder rolled overhead. She felt his hands on her, unzipping her vest and pulling her jacket away from her ribs, and she heard him swear. She didn't care that so much skin was exposed; only that the first drops on rain were cooling the fever that seemed to itch and burn along her side.
"Jacob, how fast can you get your ship over here?" Jack's voice may have sounded calm, but his fingers digging into her arm belied the image of control. "I don't think we should move her."
There were words and voices, but they all came from above and behind her. She paid them no attention. These were her guys. They'd take care of her. She'd put her trust in them so many times before and they'd never let her down, not once.
Rain was falling in her eyes now, so she let her lids slip shut. Jack put his hand against her cheek again, brushed her hair from her forehead, felt her pulse with his cool fingers at her throat where just this morning his lips had been so warm.
Daniel's face, pinched with concern, hovered over her, and she tried to tell him not to worry. Any one of them would have done the same in her place, so quit the fussing and go get the ship. She wasn't sure how much of that he understood and how much of the transmission was garbled between her brain and her parched lips. She felt him squeeze her hand before he left.
And then they were gone and it was just Jack trying to rig a cloak over her to keep the rain off her face with one hand, while the other smoothed her hair back and checked her cheeks for fever again and again, as if she'd slip off into the falling darkness the moment his fingers lost contact.
Teal'c sat cross-legged on the floor of the cargo hold beside where Major Carter lay. Sam Carter, he corrected himself. That was the name she preferred now, though it was difficult to break the habit of using her honorific. Even disgraced as he was, the young Jaffa at their camp still called him Master Teal'c, refusing to strip away his honor with their disrespect.
He sat and watched her breathe. Though she lay still, it seemed to him that her chest rose and fell too quickly, as if she'd run the quarter mile to the cargo ship herself. He worried about the heat radiating from her body as well. He'd not heard of a weapon that could induce a fever and burn its victim from the inside out, but then again, he'd also never come across a group of people with as much fortune as the members of SG-1. Teal'c suspected the only reason that O'Neill and Jacob Carter were arguing about where to seek medical aid and refuge was that it had been Samantha who'd had the luck to be on the receiving end of the near miss.
Which was the crux of the issue. By all accounts, the mission was a success. The weapons research had been destroyed along with the base. They had intelligence on the weapon that Anubis had been rumored to be developing, even though they'd been unable to retrieve it. Their only failure was that they hadn't come away completely unscathed, and they had nowhere to go in search of aide.
They'd been left hanging.
Through the open door, he could see Daniel run his hands through his hair and throw out suggestions.
"Okay, so Abydos is out. They don't have medical technology to help Sam anyhow. The Delta site is off limits. Even if they could help, it's a one-way trip back to Earth by way of the brig." Daniel looked at Jacob. "Any of our other allies are too far away. That leaves the Tok'ra."
Jacob stood, hands on the back of the co-pilot's chair, shoulders hunched, and didn't answer.
Daniel looked across to the other chair. "Jack, we've got to do something. We can't just leave her and hope the Tylenol kicks in soon."
Jack turned sharply, and Teal'c felt the ship lurch as O'Neill failed to let go of the steering yoke. "I know that Daniel. You think I don't?" he snapped. "I'll get on the horn right away and broadcast on all frequencies that we've got a medevac situation here. Calling all Tok'ra. That'll go over well with whatever allies we have left. Let's do Anubis' job for him and flush them all out into the open."
Teal'c did not envy him that moment's choice between being a warrior and a man.
"There may be a place," Selmak spoke calmly. Daniel closed his mouth and shoved his hands into his pockets. Teal'c recognized his frustration. He felt it himself, but with no recourse, no solution to offer his friends, he'd elected to stay back in the cargo hold so their fourth would not suffer alone.
"Don't hold back on us now, Selmak," Jack said. He stepped away from the controls and let Jacob take his place.
"Jack," Daniel protested, but O'Neill pushed past him. One day, Teal'c thought, Daniel Jackson would learn not to antagonize O'Neill, but today was not that day.
The ship lurched slightly as it made the jump to hyperspace and Sam moaned beside him. Teal'c removed the folded cloth from her forehead and poured more water from his canteen over it. He folded it back into a neat rectangle as he'd watched Dr. Fraiser's staff do on many occasions.
O'Neill crouched down beside the pallet. He didn't ask, but Teal'c handed him the cloth anyhow and watched him place it gently on Sam's forehead. He didn't seem to care that Teal'c was watching as he let his hand linger along the pale contours of her face.
No, Teal'c did not envy his choice at all.
When he sat still and listened, Jack thought the wind blowing through the dry grass sounded like snakes hissing, each one sending him a sibilant warning not to stay here, not to linger.
They had no choice but to linger, at least until Carter was well enough to travel. Then they'd have to decide where they were going to go. He hated being on the run all over again.
Jack sat in the dust with his back propped against the sod house, digging a furrow in the dirt with one boot heel while he squinted into the late afternoon sun. His eyes felt gritty and dry; he couldn't remember when he'd last slept. The half hour he'd lain stretched out on the floor of the cargo hold surely didn't count as sleep, and when they'd arrived on this latest planet about fifteen hours ago, it had been morning. Talk about your intergalactic jet lag.
Jacob sat down on the rough wood bench beside Jack and handed him a canteen.
"She's doing better," he said.
Jack nodded. He'd stayed beside her until her fever broke and Selmak's medicine woman all but shoved him out of the small house, nattering at him in a tongue Jack hadn't cared to try to understand.
He took a pull from the canteen, then poured water into his hand, which he rubbed over his face and across the back of his neck. Though it was cold, he did not feel refreshed.
"Does she have any idea what happened?" he asked, nodding to their wizened hostess who was currently sweeping the dooryard with a grass broom.
Jacob leaned close. "She doesn't have a clue what's wrong with Sam, only that she's hurt and needs a place to heal."
Jack looked up at him. He was too tired to be properly outraged that information was still being withheld, but Jacob must have caught the eye roll before he looked away again.
"Mekla was a friend of Selmak's, a long time ago," Jacob explained. "If there are any among the Tok'ra who knew of her, chances are, they've long forgotten it. Selmak thought it would be a safe place to regroup."
Jack looked over at Daniel stretched out on a bench on the other side of the yard, hat pulled over his face, probably asleep. "Selmak didn't think it was more important to find a doctor than visit an old girlfriend?" Jack didn't mean for it to sound so sharp, but his mouth had stopped taking orders from his brain about ten hours ago.
Jacob let it slide. "No, Selmak thought it would be a good idea to come here because of the stash emergency supplies we'd left here a few months ago. Where'd you think the antibiotics came from?"
Jack leaned his head back against the wall. He'd been too tired to wonder about that, and too worried about Sam to notice. "So you've seen this coming for a while, then."
"I'd hoped it wouldn't come to this." Jacob leaned forward, elbows on his knees. Jack handed him back the open canteen. He took a drink and said, "You don't get to be the oldest and the wisest of the Tok'ra without having a Plan B. When I'd heard that you guys were exiled, I knew that the SGC wasn't going to be there as a fall back position for this old soldier for very long, so I took a few precautions of my own."
The breeze kicked up a dust devil in the dooryard and the dry grass hissed its discontent. Jack closed his eyes against the grit until it passed. He felt the dust stick to the back of his still-damp neck and settle in his hair. He didn't know which was worse - the unending rain of the last planet, or the near-desert prairie of this one. He suddenly missed Rutan with its crisp winds off the ocean that found their way around the shutters and through the cracks in the old stone cottage. He missed waking up before the sun with the quilts pulled up around his ears and Carter still asleep with her hair falling loose over her shoulders and her warm body draped across his as he debated the merits of building a fire in the stove, or staying put just a few minutes longer and enjoying the stillness before the daylight announced the start of another workday.
They hadn't been gone a week, and right now Jack missed it more than he'd ever missed Earth.
"You know," Jacob said, "there are more than a few people out there who are sympathetic to SG-1. Quite a few people, Tok'ra and human, owe their lives to you guys." He looked at Jack. "You could always come back with me. Have a doctor check Sam out. Stay a little while until she's healed. Maybe stick around." He leaned back against the wall and crossed his legs in front of him. "Not everyone's out to arrest you, you know." He sighed heavily. "And I miss my kid."
"That's an option," Jack said. He wasn't going to commit to anything until he'd talked to Sam. "Does Selmak have any idea what happened to her? Why she got so sick that fast?" he asked, steering the conversation away. He knew the guilt that Jacob was feeling from putting his child in harm's way, knew it very well, but he wasn't going to be influenced by it either. Sam was a grown woman who'd made the choice to join the mission, not a kid picking up a loaded weapon for the first time.
Jack took his hat off and tossed it on to his vest and jacket that were piled beside him. "It didn't look like she was hit that badly."
"Selmak thinks it was just an infection. Sam probably picked it up from the air or something she touched. Something we don't have an immunity against. The wound was just the entry point." Jacob looked over at him. "You knew she was hit?"
"I saw the blood in the control room. Didn't take much to figure out who it belonged to with the way she and Daniel were covering for each other." Jack stood and brushed the dust off his pants. SG-1 had always been good at soldiering on, and it had been Jack's job to figure out if he should let them complete the mission. He didn't want that job anymore. He didn't want to have to choose if his family had to be sacrificed to meet the objective. Retired meant retired this time.
Jack wasn't the only one itching to get moving. Now that he was standing, he could see the flat spot in the endless field of grass where Teal'c sat in the cloaked cargo ship. Once he'd assured himself that Sam was going to be fine, Teal'c had taken his leave to 'monitor the sensors'. Though he knew he would never leave them stranded, Jack suspected that not knowing the outcome of the other battles and the fate of his people was putting Teal'c on edge. He was probably listening in on comm channels and trying to gather as much information as he could without giving away their position.
Jack stretched and nodded to Mekla, who chattered something in his direction as he stepped through the door.
The thick sod walls kept the single-room dwelling cool. The late afternoon light slanted through the doorway and the window, painting the floor in shades of orange and yellow where it fell. Jack pulled the single chair over to the cot in the corner and leaned in to rest a hand on Carter's forehead before he sat down. Her skin felt cooler, and he let out the breath he'd been holding.
"You could have just told him he was welcome to come visit," she said quietly. From where she lay in the shadows, he'd thought she was still asleep.
"You heard all that, huh?"
"You look tired. You should get some rest." She reached out and touched his wrist. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Nah, I think I'll stick around where I can keep an eye on you. Make sure you don't get into any more trouble." He touched the hem of her shirt, his spare shirt, actually, since they'd had to cut hers off to get at her wounds. "Mind if I take a look?"
"You know," she winced as she shifted so he could pull the shirt from under her back, "a little wine, a nice dinner, maybe a bit of dancing, and you wouldn't even need to ask to see me naked."
"Is that all it takes?" he said lightly so she wouldn't see how badly she'd scared him. The bandages were still clean and dry, a good sign, though Jack could see bruises darkening along her ribs, either from the energy weapon or from being dragged through the access hatch. She was going to be sore for a while. "You pick the restaurant and I'm there."
Jack pulled the shirt back down.
"I know a little place, actually." She caught his hand that was busy adjusting the thin sheet that lay across the cot. Jack stopped his fiddling and finally looked her in the eye.
"It's a quiet place," she said. "Got this quaint little patio that overlooks the ocean. I think you'd like it."
His throat felt tight, and for the first time since he heard the explosion, Jack felt as if he was going to come apart at the seams. "Yeah?" he swallowed. "I think I know that place."
The heat from the woodstove was making Sam sleepy. Or maybe it was the warmth radiating from the small body asleep on her lap with her head tucked into Sam's shoulder and an arm draped limply across her waist. She brushed tangled hair away from the child's brow and let her own eyes slip shut for a moment.
Maybe it was knowing that they no longer had to watch every shadow overhead and worry that every new person they met might be a threat. Maybe it was being able to let out the breath she'd been holding for the last year and a half because Anubis was gone and they didn't need to hide anymore, but Sam finally felt at ease.
The child shifted in her sleep, and Sam realized that she too had drifted off. She looked over at the woodstove and saw that the fire had burned down to embers. While the rocking chair was comfortable, she hadn't sat for this long since they'd returned, and now her back felt stiff and her ribs ached. She wondered idly when Jack would be back. It was late and they had a long walk back through the sleet and the rain to their cottage.
She was getting tired of rain.
Sam edged herself forward and slipped an arm under the child, trying to stand without disturbing her. She'd gotten half-way when the door opened and Harlow walked in, wiping his hands on a rag.
"Hold there a minute while I wash up, and then I'll put that one back to bed," he said.
Sam settled back and waited while Harlow filled the kitchen basin with warm water from the kettle and dunked his hands up to his elbows.
"So?" she asked as he scrubbed under the fingernails of one hand.
Harlow grinned. "Twins," he said. "Supposed to bring good fortune and a fertile year." He winked at her. "Jack's getting the ewe and her lambs settled in the barn, and he'll be right in so you can take your man home and put him to bed."
Sam shook her head and smiled. Harlow was shameless. "Seems you're already having a fertile year, Harlow. You don't need much help from superstition."
"Aye, maybe you got that right," he said as he dried his hands. He lowered his voice as he reached down to take the still-sleeping child from Sam. "You know Anka appreciates all the help you've been since she's been sick with the babe. This time around's been a rough one for her, and I like knowing she's not alone here when the farm calls me away."
Sam shrugged. "It's nothing. You two have been good to us."
Harlow settled his youngest daughter against his shoulder. "You'll be sticking around for a while then?" he asked. "You know, since lambing season's just starting, and Jack knows his way around the animals now. It'd take me an age to train a new hand to be as good as him. We think of you both as part of the family now, anyhow."
Sam was about to answer but was interrupted by Jack opening the door and bringing a blast of cold air in with him.
Harlow leaned towards Sam. "Just give it a thought, would you?" Turning to Jack, he asked, "All settled?"
"Yessir," Jack answered, reaching for the soap. "I checked in on the other two ladies, but it looks like they're content for now." He looked over at Sam as he scrubbed under his nails. "You want to see them before we head out, or are you planning on spending the night in the rocking chair over there?"
Without the weight of the child on her lap, standing was easier, though she still felt the slowly healing muscles along her ribs protest after sitting still for so long. "I think I'll save visiting the lambs until tomorrow," she said. "Right now I just want to curl up in a warm bed." They'd barely been back a month, and healing from weapon-burn and the resulting infection was a slow process that took a lot out of her. There were still chores to do if they wanted to put food on the table each day, even if Jack, with Harlow's backing, had firmly refused to let her do any of the heavy work, like helping to birth the new lambs.
She stretched and tried to hide a yawn behind her hand.
Harlow caught her anyhow. "We don't have a bed to spare in here, but there's clean hay in the loft, if you want to save yourself the trip up the hill. It's warm and dry," he offered.
She looked over at Jack, who was now drying his hands. He shrugged, letting her know it was up to her. It was a long walk back up the hill, but he trusted her to know her limits, even if he still had to remind her from time to time.
"Thank you, but I think the fresh air will do me good," she said. "And I think I've just had a pretty good nap with my little buddy here." She gently touched the sleeping girl's hair as she passed. "I'll be back in the morning if Anka needs help."
"Ah, she always does with this brood, not that she'll admit it, but don't rush," Harlow said. "It's the end of week and I don't plan on going farther than the barn to check on the ewes. Stoke the fire before you get to bed and enjoy the peace and quiet before you join us for morning meal."
Enjoying the peace and quiet with Jack sounded like the best plan in ages. Sam thanked Harlow and told him to send one of the older boys up to fetch them if help was needed, but Harlow just waved her towards the door where Jack was waiting, her heavy new coat that Jacob had appropriated from the Beta site in hand. Saying their final goodbyes, they shut the door firmly behind them.
The icy night air made Sam gasp.
"You okay?" Jack asked, his breath visible when he turned to check on her.
Sam pulled the coat collar up higher and slipped a hand into his, which he promptly stuffed into the pocket of his own coat to keep them both warm. "I'm fine," she answered. "Really." Jack looked like he didn't quite believe her. "I just didn't expect it to be so -"
"Cold?" he finished for her. He steered them up the path that would take them to the main road and up the hill to their cottage. "The temperature dropped about fifteen degrees once the rain stopped." He led her around the patch of ice that had been a huge puddle earlier in the day. "It's the kind of weather where you become a firm believer in the value of four-wheel drive."
"I think right now I'd have settled for a little horse power instead." She yawned and bumped into him.
Jack let go of her hand and slipped his arm around her shoulder. "There's still the hayloft," he said. "But you're going to have to decide soon, because I can't carry you all the way home, and you're a lousy sleepwalker."
Sam snuggled into his shoulder. "No, I'm good. We're going to have a house full soon enough, and I'd kind of like a little time to myself with you before that."
"Wait." Jack stopped so suddenly that Sam almost stumbled. "House full?" he asked, sounding like he'd just been told he'd be exiting an aircraft at three thousand feet without a parachute. "Is there something you've been keeping from me?"
She squinted at him, but while the stars were bright over head, there was no moon and all she could see of him was his outline. "You don't recall the conversation with Teal'c and my dad about coming to visit before we all join Daniel on Abydos for Skaara's wedding?" She waited for him to catch up before she started walking. When he didn't answer, she imagined him frowning as he tried to remember. "At the Tok'ra base. Teal'c said he wanted to learn to ride a horse," she prompted.
"Uh, no, actually." Jack fell into stride and put his arm around her shoulders again. "I think you guys lost me somewhere around 'Sam's going to be fine' and 'No, the Tok'ra won't be turning you over to the US Government the first chance we get'."
Sam looked up at him. "You don't remember at all? Dad saying he'd stay for a proper visit this time?"
She shook her head as they picked their way up the road, trying to avoid the slippery patches. Her nose was getting cold. "What did you think I was talking about?" she asked.
"Did Harlow tell you he asked me to make him an offer on the cottage?" Jack asked. She knew he was changing the subject and she let him. She'd get him to spill later, maybe. "Said he'd throw in a couple of acres of land if we gave him the right price."
"Isn't that a little backwards?"
She felt Jack shrug. "It's how they do things here, I guess."
"In that case, you should hold out for a cow, as well."
Jack stopped again. Sam didn't. At this rate, the sun was going to be up before they made it back to the cottage.
"Are you serious?" he asked, his breath fogging the air as he jogged to catch up.
Sam pulled her collar up against the wind and kept walking. "Why not?" she asked. "Do you have somewhere better in mind?"
"Well, no," he answered. "I just thought, you know, we've never really agreed, one way or the other, and now that Anubis isn't around you could probably pick any planet you want. Maybe one with a nice beach, or something."
"A beach?" This time, Sam did stop. She grabbed his sleeve and he stood facing her in the middle of the road. "You want to spend the next twenty or so years sitting on a beach?"
The road took them around past the ocean, above a perfectly nice beach, for that matter, and the wind was blowing hard off the water. Sam felt the tips of her ears and the tops of her cheeks start to go numb. They'd need to add warm hats and scarves to their list of things to pick up on their next trip into town.
If they decided to stick around.
"Not really." Jack stepped between Sam and the view of the ocean, effectively blocking the wind for her. She could still only see his silhouette in the starlight, but she could hear the uncertainty that had crept into his voice.
"Beaches are only really good for a few things, I figure," he continued. He scuffed a boot against the frozen ground. "Building sandcastles… honeymoons… looking at pretty girls in bikinis… maybe some fishing, if the tides are just right."
"So you're saying you want to go find a planet with a beach so you can watch girls in bikinis?" she asked. His shoulders were hunched, but whether against the wind at his back, or because he was trying to downplay the comment, she didn't know.
When he answered, she had to strain to hear him against the wind. "One in particular. Among other things."
Sam stepped closer so they were standing face to face. She slipped her hands through his, stealing the warmth he always seemed to radiate. "And I guess you don't really care how good the fishing is?" she asked.
"Not really." He finally looked at her. "Doesn't matter much to me about the sand castles, either."
Sam bit her lip. This wasn't how she'd imagined things turning out for them when they'd been handed their walking papers. Furthest thing from her mind, in fact.
"So? What do you say?" he asked lightly, and she knew if she didn't say something soon, he'd make some lame joke and the moment would pass.
Only Sam didn't want that moment to pass. She wanted to savor it, to revel in the fact that they had made it to this time and this place together, whole and alive.
She reached up with one wind-numbed hand and cupped his cheek. She felt him shiver as her lips brushed his, but he didn't pull away from her cold touch.
"Jack," she said as she slipped her hand into his again and gave him a tug to get him moving. "Just take me home."