A place called home

by Sharim

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Disclaimer

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TITLE: A place called home

AUTHOR: Sharim

EMAIL: MissSharim@yahoo.com

STATUS: Completed

CATEGORY: AU, Drama, Angst, Romance

PAIRINGS: S/J, others.

SPOILERS: Everything up to and including Season 3

SEASON: Well... everything and up to including Season 3

SEQUEL/CHAPTERS: There are 7 parts to this, not including the disclaimer. Each part has five sub parts... so yeah. It's LONG. You have been warned.

RATING: PG - 13... just to be safe.

CONTENT WARNINGS: Heavy duty angst... Um... dunno really.

SUMMARY: It's long. He. No... A few members of SG-1 get stuck on the planet where they discovered Ernest, an alternate reality story. This deals with their survival and what happens.

YEAR COMPLETED: Started on 30/10/2001. Finished on 11/01/2002 (happy new year!!)

SIZE: 70KB

ARCHIVE: S/J yes please! Heliopolis (if I get around to putting it on there), my site (which should *hopefully* be online soon, and here's some shameless self promotion, the addy is http://sharimsuds.topcities.com)

DISCLAIMER: The usual. I don't own any of the stargate sg-1 characters. I do, however, own the story line - well, most of it anyway -, the original and very groovy characters that *I* invented. Unfortunately the only thing I get out of this story is self satisfaction. No money, no nothing. sigh. The usual disclaimer thingos.. I mean, we all konw the drill anyway.

AUTHORS NOTE: Long story = Long Authors note. You have been warned.

Uh... a novel we were forced to read in english C called Remembering Babylon actually inspired me, sort of, to write this. The novel itself isn't so great plot wise (I'm hoping this fic has a good plot!!) and the only thing that really got me to absolutely love (yes suds, *love*) the book was the way in which it was written. I've tried to make this realisitic and me, being me, hates corny/cliched parts so if there are any corny/cliched bits in there *please* let me know and next time I'll endeavor to do better. He.

Now I'm off to start work on another long fic that's been bugging me for a while but I promised suds I wouldn't start *another* fic until I finished this one.

So... 'tot siens' as we say in Afrikaans and enjoy!!

DEDICATIONS: Firstly... big thanks to... (sorry if I miss anyone) Suds, Jo, Joanna, Joey, Arnise, Tigermoth, Uly for all being such wonderfully patient, encouraging and very *useful/knowledgable* beta's!!

Also to Lena for being such a lovely person. Hope M-I-L is doing okay!!

And this one is going to be for... gee damn, *ME*. I worked so hard and so long on this... i'm just getting teary! *sniff*



A place called Home

by Sharim

~One~

~*~

Cold. Wet. So, so cold. Ribs, painful. Arm. Fire shooting up arm. Cold. Oh...want to moan, want to scream...so cold. So sore. Arm. On fire. Wet. Cold. Help.

Voices. Soft. So soft. So far away. Help me. Please. Help me. Cold. So cold. So wet. Nose. Itchy nose. Want to scratch nose. Can't. Cold. Jagged stone digging into cheek. Fire burning up arm. Cold fire. Drowning. Cold. Help. Please help. It hurts. Why aren't you listening? It hurts. Help me. Please, help me. So cold.

~*~

"TEAL'C!"

"I am here, O'Neill." I see his lips move, the words lost to me as the noise resonates around the room again. Noise. So much noise, I'm scared my head is going to split open. My body pulses with the movement, I've long since been able to tell where the rocking floor begins and my shaking legs end. All that seems to exist is the noise.

No. That's not true. My team. My team is here.

"TEAL'C!" I scream again, he lurches towards me, his normally graceful bulk stumbling towards me drunkenly. The debris showers down on us, a grimy coating of scratching dirt and rocks sticking to our rain slicked bodies.

He reaches me, and we clutch at each other for balance. His tree-trunk-like fingers dig into my arm, nearly cutting off the blood circulation. I don't complain as my cold, numb fingers wrap themselves in the tatters that were once the jacket he wore so proudly.

"The others." He shouts in my ear, his voice blending in with that horrific noise, the creaking and cracking as the world around us sways and moans its complaint.

The others. Where are they? The world is darkening so rapidly...the noise is suffocating everything else; I'm drowning in it. Daniel, where's Daniel? Oh! Daniel went home!

"Daniel's okay!" I yell back, relief bringing a momentary release from the noise. But the elation at Daniel's safety is short lived. Daniel made it back. No one else did. Not unless Carter...

"Dr. Langford!" Teal'c announces, darting forwards and staggering drunkenly towards a battered figure stumbling towards us. Catherine. Her eyes are wild with fear, panicking. She's screaming something, I can see her lips move but the only sound that I can hear is the noise around me. The thunder claps again and the world shakes mightily in protest. A war. A war between the heavens and the earth. I sure as hell hope the earth wins this one.

"Ernest!" I can hear her now, as I hold her close to me, steadying her and offering comfort. Ernest. A pang runs through me. Please. No. Please let him be okay, don't do this to her. She's only just found him for crying out loud!

The rain is still falling, hitting us like small stones being hurled by spiteful children. My cheeks are stinging and my vision is blurred. My eyes are tearing because of the burning droplets of water, but it's not over yet.

Another clap of thunder rocks around the room, the lightning illuminating it so that I just have time to catch a sight of something that causes my heart to stop beating for a second. Catherine must feel the shock coursing through me, I jerk as though I just touched a live wire. The Stargate. It's lying flat on the earth.

She pulls out of my hold, but I don't let go. The building shakes again and a rough push from Teal'c throws us out of harm's way as another wall and section of roofing crashes to the ground. Oh. Could this night get any worse?

Of course it can. Dumb question. Remind me never, *never* to ask another question like that because the answer to them is always yes.

"Teal'c!" I yank on his arm. My team isn't safe yet. I don't know where Carter is. Or Ernest. He's not stupid, he knows what I'm about to do, and he doesn't insult my judgement or authority by arguing. Instead, he takes hold of Catherine and leads her out of the room as quickly as possible.

"CARTER!" My voice bounces around the room. I realise with surprise that the noise is fading, the rumbling isn't so loud anymore and I can actually tell where my feet start and where the floor ends.

Now that the noise is going, my other senses start to function again. I can smell the air, dusty despite the gallons of water bucketing down over me every second. I taste the coating of dust and grime in my mouth, feel it clogging my nostrils and chafing against me where it has gotten under my uniform, rubbing my skin raw. Water rivulets down my face, gushing into my eyes and matting my hair to my face.

"CARTER!" Another flash of lightning. A glint of something pale, something gold. Her hair maybe? Another rumble and the floor bucks. OH...Oh no. Things can definitely get worse. Oh damn. This is not good. This is *so* not good. Where's Teal'c when I need him? Oh, oh right. I sent him out with Catherine...damn.

Movement. I jump as another part of the roof comes crashing to the ground, missing me by centimetres. Small chips break off and fly away, stinging my cheeks and neck nearly as badly as the rain. I look up as I struggle to my feet, tearing what remains of my jacket as I yank it out from beneath the large boulder.

Something touches me on the back, a tentative touch. Carter! I spin around as quickly as possible, losing my footing on the unstable ground and crashing to the ground again, sharp rocks and jagged edges digging into my back. I look up at the shape of Ernest as he bends over me, his innocently naive silhouette peering down at me. Not Carter. Damn it, where is she?

"Ernest..." The words stick in my throat as my tongue discovers resistance against the dirt-clogged roof of my mouth. It feels disgusting, big and coarse in my strangely dry mouth.

Another jagged burst of lightning, and then I see it.

"CARTER!" I ignore Ernest, he's okay as far as I can tell. Carter isn't. Oh, SHIT!

"O'NEILL!" Never have I been so glad to hear Teal'c's voice speaking in my ear.

"Ernest!" I grab hold of him, studying his dim form in the darkness. Why does it have to be so dark? "Go to Catherine, okay? Go to Catherine!" He's a like a dog. A quick, affirmative nod of the head much like an eager wag of the tail, and he disappears over the rubble, swallowed by the darkness.

"Captain Carter?" Teal'c asks me.

"Here." I trip over another rock and half land on top of her. She's conscious, barely. "Help me get it off her!" I panic. Why am I so panicked? Because, Jack you doofus, this place is going to go any second!

"We will not succeed, O'Neill." Ever the optimist.

"Quit being so damn excited and help me lift!" My hands, arms, legs, back; my everything strains against the weight, my numb, lifeless fingers scrabbling and straining with every bit of strength in their possession to hold onto the gate and lift it. With an uncontrolled, desperate scratching they slip off the cool metal of the Stargate. I try again, ripping my nails off against the smooth surface, vehemently searching for a hold. Once again they slip, leaving her arm pinned beneath the large metal ring.

"You are not succeeding." Teal'c *helpfully* points out, and I realise with sudden relief that just as quickly as the storm came, it's leaving. The world is now eerily silent and dark, but the darkness is also fading, leaving a drab, murky grey light starting to filter in through the now gaping hole where the roof once was.

Another shift beneath our feet, and I clutch fearfully at Carter. I will *NOT* lose a member of my team. Come hell or highwater, Carter will *NOT* be pulled out of my grip. Which, come to think of it, might have just arrived. Okay...so right there. Focus Jack, that's right, *focus*.

"O'Neill, we do not have much time." Teal'c states urgently, his eyes focused unwaveringly on mine.

"So you noticed too, huh?" I grunt, pulling myself to a sitting position next to Carter. How do we do this? How do we get her unpinned without chopping her arm off?

Another rumble and again the world seems to tilt awkwardly. It does tilt and the gate shifts as well, ever so slightly. "It's sliding!" I realise, hope fighting within me. "Quick! Push it this way!" I trip over the gate, walking inside it's diametre as I scramble to the correct side.

Teal'c realises what I want to do, and makes his way over to me as well. "Will this not damage her arm further?" He asks quietly before placing his hands over the gate. The world is rapidly lightening, the greyness turning to opaqueness. It looks eerie, with large boulders barely visible in the dusty clouds of mist gathered over us.

"It's either damage her arm or lose her entirely!" I point out, leaning heavily onto my hands. "I'm sure she'll understand." Catching my breath I ready myself. "One, two, three!" I push forwards, throwing my weight against the gate. Teal'c follows suit, but nothing happens.

"O'Neill, I do believe..."

The world rocks again, a sickening groan and a sound not unlike a stone being dropped from a height and cracking in half splits the air. Not good. Really not good.

I fall forwards suddenly as the gate takes off, sliding slowly at first but gathering speed as the world tips even more to one side.

"COLONEL!" Her scream cuts through the air, agony lacing the frantic cry. Her eyes are wide saucers as they meet mine, her good arm scrabbling for a hold in the rubble as she too, like the gate, begins to roll away from us.

The gate disappears through a hole where the wall used to be, Carter rapidly following suit. Her eyes never leave mine as her body bumps and grates against the small stones and not so small boulders travelling with her.

Teal'c is there, I realise suddenly, tripping and falling but rapidly closing the distance between himself and Carter. Just when I think it's too late he grabs a hold of the upper part of her broken arm and yanks her to a stop.

Then his feet give way.

I watch with a feeling of dread as the giant man crashes to the ground and Carter's eyes lose contact with mine. I close my eyes. Too late. I've lost them.

I prise my eyes open. I can't watch. I can't not watch though. In a last ditch effort Carter reaches out and snags hold of a large rock. She slows their descent just enough for Teal'c to grab a hold of another boulder, and they crash to a stop. I can see her already colourless cheeks change to a sickening grey colour as she looks back up at me, her eyes glazed with pain...and then they close.

Teal'c somehow manages to pull himself to his feet, and all I can do is stand and watch as he awkwardly picks her up, struggling to maintain his balance on the uneven, rickety ground.

He moves towards me so slowly he nearly doesn't make it. He stumbles often over the stones, and as he comes closer I suspect his leg must be broken because he can barely walk on it. The ground lurches again, and he throws Carter forwards. She lands near me, and I grab a hold of the remains of her vest. Dragging her towards me I catch a sight of Teal'c still clutching hold of a boulder. The world is slowly tilting, he can't hold on much longer.

Snagging Carter's limp form against a jutting boulder, I lean over the edge and reach out a hand towards Teal'c. He reaches up slowly and grasps my hand, his fingers ice cold against mine. Slowly we struggle backwards, his feet searching for and finding the bare minimum of contact needed to push him upwards and over the edge to relative safety.

"Let's go!" I grunt, not giving him time to recuperate as he flops over the edge of the jutting land. Grabbing Carter and throwing her gracelessly over my shoulder, I take off, only sparing a quick glance to see Teal'c following me, a hobbling, uneven gait as he stumbles over the ground that's once again bucking and twisting in some demented rhythm that only it can hear. But we made. By the skins of our teeth, by the bone in Teal'c's shin and by the cotton shreds of Carter's vest, we made it.

~Two~

~*~

All I can do is sit here and whimper, watching as Jack efficiently takes control and puts a sense of purpose into our being here.

"Ernest, we need to find somewhere to shelter." I watch him silently as he talks to this strange, eccentric man that I knew so long ago. Ernest. What has happened to you, my dearest Ernest? I barely recognise you from the young, adventurous man I fell in love with.

"Caves." Ernest looks up, and I see the spark in his eyes as he looks up at Jack. There's admiration in the depths of those watery pupils that have aged over time. Jack is the man that Ernest never had the chance to be, and I feel envious for Ernest's sake.

"Where are they?" Jack is remarkably patient. I think it must be why he's so good with children. Oh, the man can be impatient, arrogant and domineering as hell, but the kids aren't fooled for one minute by that tough exterior. And Ernest is responding just like the children that Jack loves so much.

"On the beach." Ernest frowns slightly. "Catherine and I explored them. We found a lovely one that would have made a beautiful house..." He trails off, blinking in confusion but bearing a half contented smile.

"But?" Jack picks up on the pause.

"Catherine thought it would be better for us to stay in the castle. She liked pretending she was a princess and that one day someone would come and rescue us. You came to rescue me, didn't you Jack?" My eyes sting with tears as I watch the emotions and theories run across Ernest's face. He loves me. After all this time, he still loves me. To him, I have remained an unchanged constant. He doesn't seem to accept or believe that I was never really here with him. What's going to happen to us now?

"Ernest, I need you to show me where those caves are, okay?" Jack settles back on his haunches, his eyes never leaving Ernest's. The more I see and get to know Jack O'Neill, the more I like the man. I disliked him at first, just another military colonel who thought he controlled the world and that he was right all the time. He's changed, and I've gotten to see him more clearly over time. His team's helped with that, I think. Dr. Jackson, Captain Carter and Teal'c. Who would have guessed Jack O'Neill would be serving with such a bunch of misfits?

"I'll show you the beach. And I'll show you the caves." Ernest nods, appearing surprisingly lucid and calm considering the statements he'd been making a few minutes earlier.

"Okay. Catherine, I'm going to have to ask you and Ernest to help Teal'c."

"What about Captain Carter?" My voice is still wobbly and it's been at least an hour since it happened. Since we became trapped on this world. I now have the slightest comprehension of how Ernest felt when he realised he had no way to get home. No one knew where he was; no one even acknowledged what had happened to him. At least some people knew where we are, even if we don't stand a chance of being rescued.

"Carter'll be fine, Catherine. I'll carry her down myself." Jack is back in control again. No worry, no anxiety, no hopelessness shows in his eyes. Instead I only see the grim determination that we will survive this, that he won't let one of us die on this world unless he can help it. The facts about Captain Carter's rescue that I managed to wrangle out of Teal'c just point that out to me. Jack, Captain Carter, Teal'c and Daniel. They're all each other have and they won't let anything happen to their team-mates. The fact that she is lying on the ground next to me, her head resting in my lap is testimony to this fact.

"What about her arm?" I ask, my eyes darting involuntarily towards the mangled limb. It's broken, though smashed or crushed would probably be a better word for it. The skin has been torn off in places, grazed in others, and the small patches where it's still intact have been stained the deep red colour of her blood. Even if we do somehow manage to save her arm, she probably won't be able to use it much. Thank goodness it's her left arm and not her right arm.

I see the fear and concern for Captain Carter slip across his face for an instant before his resolve wins the argument again.

"We'll have to do the best we can. All our medical supplies were in our packs which..."

"Are in the castle." Teal'c inserts as Jack fades away, realisation dawning on his face.

"Has there been any movement?" He asks, studying me intently. Movement? Captain Carter or...? "The castle, Catherine. Has anything else given way in the last five or so minutes?" He repeats the question more clearly.

"Uh...no...I don't think so. Jack, you are *not* going to go..."

"I'm in command of this mission, Catherine." Jack states it quietly, his eyes daring me to challenge. I open my mouth, ready to respond to his challenge, but he cuts me off smoothly. "It's my responsibility to do everything in my power to ensure my team is well looked after and safe."

"That doesn't mean risking your own life!" I point out, knowing with a sinking feeling in my gut that it is exactly what his responsibility and his course of action is.

"If something goes wrong I want you to go to the caves and find shelter. Set up a way to get food and supplies...who knows how long we'll be stuck here for." Jack stands up, stretching out the kinks in his stiff legs and back.

Ernest also stands up and half follows Jack along the overgrown, narrow track leading back to the castle.

"Ernest." Jack sighs, stopping and watching him.

"I can find food." Ernest offers. "Catherine and I know where the best things are..." He offers, frowning slightly in confusion. He turns and looks at me properly. "Don't we, Catherine?" He asks hesitantly.

"I'm sure you do, Ernest." I can't help smiling slightly and watching as his own grubby face lights up in response.

"Yes. I do." Ernest nods and turns back to Jack. "Do you want me to find some food, Jack?"

"Don't stray too far." Jack grants Ernest his request. I don't say anything as Jack offers a halfhearted wave before turning and striding back along the path.

I'm not stupid Jack. Do you think I don't notice the tatters your clothes are in? The amount of blood that is staining your skin and clothes? The way you can barely bend your back?

I sigh and glance over at Teal'c who is busy watching me blankly, though his eyes betray the deep concern he also feels for Jack. "How's your leg?" I ask him, pointing at the injured limb which Jack insisted he rest on a rock.

"It is healing." He replies, not really answering the question. Jack was right, it must have been broken. Seeing my look, Teal'c continues. "It should be healed within a few days."

"That's lucky, isn't it." I sigh and look back down at Captain Carter's arm. How on earth are we going to make it?

~*~

She has seen his determination, and she believes in his determination. She simply does not believe his determination will succeed. I, however, do believe that O'Neill's determination will be enough for everyone to survive.

I am concerned for my friend. He was also severely injured, yet his pride and sense of duty will not let him be taken care of until the remainder of his team has been seen too.

Captain Carter is severely injured. Dr. Langford does not believe in O'Neill's determination the way he needs her too. Ernest is...Ernest has remained by himself on this planet in isolation for too many years. I am afraid that his mind has been affected. It would appear that so is Dr. Langford.

A rumbling in the distance and the slight movement of the earth beneath us brings to light my fears. O'Neill is in very grave danger, and there is nothing I can do for him. I can only hope that he is successful in his attempt to locate our packs, yet I do not believe he will find anything of value.

A movement in the bushes alerts me. Subtly I ready the side arm O'Neill and General Hammond insist I carry with me all times. Dr. Langford watches me, fear in her eyes as I raise the weapon. Ernest. It is Ernest returning from his foraging exercise. In his hands he bears a great many fruits and berries. It seems we have visited this planet during the fertile time of the seasons.

"Medicine." Ernest tells me, offering large leaf-like plants towards me.

"I have no need for medicine. I am a Jaffa. I carry a Symbiote that heals me and prevents illness from affecting me. Medicine is of no use for a broken limb."

"Captain Carter does." He insists, stepping closer towards me. I can read the fear in his eyes, he is ready to flee because he is scared of me. He is scared of most people, I realise, especially of Dr. Langford.

"How can that leaf help the Captain?" Dr. Langford asks, her voice gentle as though speaking to a child. I can not help but wonder what it must be like to suddenly find the one you have loved all your life and his mind has been affected as Ernest's has.

"It helps." Ernest narrows his eyes, searching the ground around the small fire O'Neill had managed to build with the wet kindling before he left. Spying a large stone, Ernest pushes it towards the fire. He carefully places the leaves on the stone and then uses another stone to grind the leaves to a stringy paste. He scratches the paste onto one remaining leaf with his bent, twisted fingers and offers it out warily to Dr. Langford.

"What do I do with it?"

"I believe it is a poultice, Dr. Langford." I inform her, the strong scent of the crushed leaves working it's way through my body. "It is a very powerful drug." The scent warms me, much like a salve that Captain Carter once gave to Daniel Jackson for a bad cough he had.

"It's like Vicks." Dr. Langford gasps, pulling the leaf away from her nose after inhaling the scent.

"It makes the wounds better." Ernest says, pointing towards Captain Carter's arm.

"Thank you, Ernest." Dr. Langford smiles at him again, but I can see the sorrow in her eyes as she looks upon the misshapen and knobbly man that she knew as a youth.

"It's okay, Catherine. You showed it to me first." Hearing Ernest speak things like that is disconcerting for both Dr. Langford and I. I hope O'Neill returns soon, he is the only one that Ernest now seems to feel comfortable around.

~*~

Catherine. I love you Catherine, and you know that. You told me when we were walking along the beach and we found that shell that matched your eyes. I love you Catherine.

Looking across the small flames at the old woman applying the leaf poultice to the younger woman, I feel fear and horror bubble up inside me. A stately woman, I would describe her as. Never Catherine. Catherine is young and vibrant and so excitable one finds it hard to concentrate when she is near, spurting her imaginative, if not slightly far-fetched, ideas. How can this woman with the same expressive brown eyes be the young girl that's kept me company for so long?

It seems so real, the memories, the jokes, the stories, the confessions...but I *know* they're not real. They are confusing.

Catherine. Are we going home, Catherine?

No, Ernest, sweetheart. Not yet. We have to wait a bit longer. But look, we've got company now. Make sure you show them the best spot for drinking water. It wouldn't be polite for our guests to not have the best our garden has to offer.

"Of course, Catherine."

The old woman looks up at me, startled, concern lining her brown eyes. Catherine's eyes. This can't be Catherine. Catherine is young, she is laughing. This woman is old and there is sadness in her eyes.

~*~

Hurts. Still so cold. Hurts so badly. Colonel. Where's the Colonel? It hurts. I'm sorry, Colonel. Teal'c...Daniel? Someone help me, it hurts. Janet? I'm cold. It hurts. Buzzing noise in my head. Hurts. Agony. Fire starts again, gathering warmth as the ice drips over me. Cold. Hot. Noises. People. Cold. Hurt. Darkness coming. Daddy.

~*~

I feel like I'm a cadet going for my first run carrying my first pack. At least I've got them. Two packs. Daniel's and Carter's. Why I have Daniel's pack I can only imagine, he probably mistook Teal'c's for his own. Again. I'm surprised Teal'c doesn't get annoyed at him for doing it so often.

Daniel's pack is digging into my back. It's heavier than Carter's, so I figured it would be easier to carry hers in my arms. Another painful dig into my aching back as I dodge a fallen log, and I begin to wonder just *what* exactly Danny boy has in his pack.

Deciding that I've been feeling sorry enough for myself, I force my attention to study my surroundings. A good officer always knows his position and all the possible tactical advantages. As my surroundings now stand, one falling down castle behind me, one delapidated little camp ahead. On the left would you please note the *wonderful* leafy green foliage. Yes, we call those trees. Oh, hey, look, there's some more on the right! Wonderful. I was beginning to think that trees were something unique in the universe, a rarity. Thank goodness I'm wrong.

The whiff of woodsmoke catches my attention, and I allow my attention to drift from the current muddy, slippery track beneath my feet to the small makeshift camp and it's contents up ahead. Water continues to drip off the large, waxy leaves and finds a way down the back of my neck, not really worsening my already saturated condition, just annoying me even further.

"Jack!" Catherine sounds so grateful, I haven't heard many people sound that happy to see me in a long time.

"It's me." I smile at her as I step into the small clearing. A poultice of some sort has been applied to Carter's arm. Sweet. "I got two packs."

"That's wonderful!" Catherine's hand is stroking Carter's hair. I can see her weathered hands shaking slightly, and her eyes continually dart nervously towards where Ernest is poking with a stick in the fire. I'm guessing things aren't happy families between the two of them.

"I strongly suggest you use the medical kits contained within the packs to tend your wounds, O'Neill." Teal'c says softly from his position. The pain on the Jaffa's face seems to be lessening, but then again it's always hard to tell with the big guy. He has this habit of not revealing things until they hurt. *Really* hurt.

"Will do, Teal'c. Catherine, if I could get you to give me a hand..." This isn't going to be pretty, and I'm pretty sure Carter's not going to be too impressed when she realises that I had to help clean and patch her up. She does, despite her denials and statements, have a very feministic pride and I know she's a very modest, shy sort of person when it comes to revealing aspects of her anatomy. But it has to be done. I want Carter to survive, pretty much intact, and I know she won't be *too* upset, just a little embarrassed maybe. At least, I *hope* so.

I swear, getting stranded on alien planets light years away from home and having to undress your female 2IC to keep her alive was *NEVER* in the job description.

~Three~

~*~

The weather has, over the last three days we have been on this planet, remained very pleasing. The warmth of the sun and the lack of wind has encouraged my symbiote greatly to heal my fractured limb.

Captain Carter, however, still remains in a state of unconsciousness. Dr. Langford, O'Neill and I have all taken it in turns to watch over her, dress her wounds and give her water to drink when she requires it. I am gravely concerned about my friend's condition. She weakens daily, and the fever ravages her body. Due to Ernest's medicine, however, Captain Carter's arm wounds seem to remain uninfected and are healing remarkably quickly. O'Neill and Dr. Langford have both applied the poultice to their own abrasions and both are healing very well. O'Neill believes there is still a chance that Captain Carter will retain the use of her arm.

My leg now feels strong and does not ache as much as it once did. I am currently venturing along the sands of the beach. In the distance the castle remains, a broken skeleton still desperately clutching at the sky. The castle has seen many, many seasons. Its walls have, however, failed the test of time. I believe that the Goa'uld will also, like the walls of the castle, fail the tests of time because of these with me, the Tau'ri, grow strong and challenge them. While we are alive and living on this planet I will continue to hope and wait for deliverance from this planet so that I may continue my quest for the freedom of my people.

~*~

It's my turn to sit with Captain Carter. I've sent Jack to get some sleep. Teal'c disappeared a few hours ago on a walk along the beach, with Ernest discreetly tagging along behind him.

I found a shell today, wrapped in a bit of cloth. Ernest saw me find it, and he asked me if I remembered the night we found that on the beach. I wish I could say yes to him. So much has changed since the last time I saw him.

I was so excited when Daniel told me they knew where Ernest was. After all this time I should have known he'd have changed. I should have known that he wouldn't be the same Ernest I remembered and that we wouldn't just pick up where we left off and live happily ever after. It's stupid, but that's how I wished...

"Catherine?" Captain Carter's voice is hoarse, grating in her throat and barely audible.

"Shh. It's okay, Captain." I whisper, taking a hold of the drinking canteen that Jack always left near her. "Here, have something to drink."

"My arm." She moans, scrunching her pale, gaunt face up in pain. I touch her forehead hesitantly, and relief floods over me as I realise her skin is cool to touch.

"It's broken. Try not to move it. Jack splinted it for you but..."

"We're not on earth, are we?" She wheezes, battling to keep her eyes open as she tries to lift her lips for a sip of water.

"No, we're not." I can't lie to her. She deserves to know the truth. "Only Daniel made it back. Everyone else is still here and fine."

"Everyone?" She double checks as water dribbles down her chin and leaves a damp patch on the pathetic excuse for clothes.

"Everyone. Teal'c had a broken leg but his symbiote fixed that up for us..."

"Your face." She frowns slightly in concern, but the effort is too much for her and her eyes slip closed again in slumber.

Yes. My face. A jagged gash down the whole of my right cheek. A pang shoots through me. Not only a gash down my cheek, but several other scars too. A small mark from chicken pox, a tiny scar under my chin from a fall...all marks that have changed and moulded my face to the person I have become after all this time. I'm not vain; I know I'm not beautiful. But Ernest remembered me as young and pretty. I've changed so much now, and so has he.

We're not the same people that we used to be.

~*~

"How is she?" I nod towards the young woman sleeping fitfully next to the fire.

"She's getting there." The older woman tells me, a longing look on her face. Catherine. She reminds me so much of the Catherine I know.

I can't find Catherine. She won't talk to me anymore. I think she's unhappy with me because I've been neglecting her. These strangers, the people that nearly rescued me are occupying my thoughts now. The older woman in particular.

Catherine. She's Catherine, isn't she?

NO. The Catherine I know walks along the beach with me and talks of everything. She talks of other worlds, of families, of her dreams...this Catherine is so old. Her eyes are old and tired. She was looking for something, but she's given up now.

Where's my Catherine?

"I brought food." I tell the woman, stealing a cautious look at her. She's watching me now, open sorrow on her face as she studies me in the firelight.

"You can't, can you?" She asks softly. She's angry with me, but sorrowed at the same time. What can't I do? Why is she angry with me? I don't know her. Do I?

~*~

"What's going on?" I roll to my feet, watching Catherine and Ernest studying each other. Something's wrong between the two of them, even *I* can see that. Catherine isn't eating right and she looks so unhappy. Ernest is just confused as hell, which is okay considering that he's been on his own for the last half a century or so.

"I brought food." Ernest announces, holding up a small animal of some sort.

"Great." I smile at him. The old boy is rather capable. Had to be to survive fifty years on his own.

"Captain Carter woke up." Carter woke up? Who cares about food.

"How was she?" I demand, pushing Catherine out of the way and inspecting Carter for myself. I hate to admit it, but I *do* feel a certain amount of affection for my captain. Hell, who wouldn't, she's a bright kid. Even brighter than me!!

"Coherent. She was worried about the team and she said her arm hurt." Catherine fills me in as I gently pull the poultice off of her arm.

Truth is, Carter, you've had me worried. This poultice of Ernest's will definitely be useful back home, but we all have to get home first. Her arm doesn't look great. The wounds are all red, but they don't look so angry anymore. The thing that worries me though, is the completely pulpy look of her arm. It's just so...flat. Squished. Jellyish. Unhealthy. I'm pretty sure her arm was very well smashed, not just broken. If only we could get some of that poultice on the bone and...

"Catherine..." An idea pops to mind. A Jack O'Neill special.

"What is it?" She knows I'm thinking of something because the thoughtful tone of my voice has to be a rarity.

"What if we mixed this stuff with water and gave it to her to drink?"

"What?" Catherine doesn't look too happy.

"Well...it might help with the fever and everything...and maybe it can do miracles for her bone too."

"I don't think it would help her bones heal any faster, Jack. They have to knit themselves back together, and that takes time." Catherine reminds me logically.

Damn. And I wonder why I never made it as a doctor.

~Four~

~*~

"How are you feeling?" I open my eyes and look up into the Colonel's concerned face.

"Better, thanks." I tell him. Okay. So that's only a *little* lie. My arm still hurts like hell, and they won't let me look at it. Catherine had a fit last night when I thought she was sleeping and tried to prise the bandages off. I *know* I shouldn't touch the splint, that I should just leave the arm to heal, but it *hurts* and I would at least like to see *why* it hurts.

"If you try another stunt like last night..." He warns me, no humour in his eyes as he looks down at me.

"Sorry Sir, it won't happen again." Okay, so that sounded very false, even to my own ears.

"Carter, I'm serious. That arm is in bad shape, and I mean *bad* shape." No, he is serious. He's not joking. I *know* my arm is in bad shape...but still.

"Yes Sir."

"Good." He settles back, his eyes never leaving me.

"So how are things going?" I ask, letting my eyes travel around the room again, trying desperately to ignore my arm. But it's so sore. Sore doesn't even begin to describe it. If Daniel were here I'm sure he could lend me a useful word in one of the 23 languages he speaks. Then again maybe there isn't one that describes this kind of agony and then we'll just have to make one up...

"Not bad. Teal'c and Ernest have a rapport going now, they go hunting. That's where our lovely collection of animal pelts is coming from." He grins slightly, pulling a face. "Catherine is gathering berries and stuff...I've been fishing. The usual."

"How long have we been here, Sir?" I have to ask the question some time. Now seems as good a time as any.

"Nearly three weeks."

"Three weeks?" I gape.

"You were out of it for the first couple of days." I point out.

"More than the first couple." I snort; wincing slightly as my arm voices it's complaint. Loudly.

"Carter, I won't lie to you. It's bad." He sighs, leaning back against the wall. I feel privileged for some strange reason, that he's dropping the facade of optimism with me. I've seen him in front of the others, determined that we'll survive, and I believed him. But I know my Colonel. It wasn't *him* speaking. This is *him* speaking, because he's being honest with me.

"The gate?" It's a dumb question, but Catherine won't answer things. She doesn't know what she should and shouldn't tell me. The Colonel doesn't have qualms like that though.

"It's gone." He says simply.

"Gone?" I frown. I remember it falling towards me, jumping to get out of the way, a burning sensation as my arm got crushed...the haziness, the cold, the pain, the wetness and that cold fire that haunted me for so long.

"Yeah. It just fell over the edge. Took a large chunk of the wall with it. I think it's pretty much buried." He sighs, rubbing his hands with his face.

"So what are we going to do, Sir?" I ask softly, watching him hopefully.

"Survive, Carter, and wait." He looks at me, real determination in his eyes. "I'll be damned if I'm going to die on some God forsaken lump of rock in the middle of no where. I *won't* let it happen. Hell, you haven't even had a chance to climb the ranks yet!" He grins suddenly, and the moment is over. Now it's Colonel and Captain once again. A superficial, but comforting relationship none-the-less. "You should get some sleep." He stands up, reaching over and ruffling my decidedly greasy hair.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you." I warn him, thinking about the safety of his own hands in that horrifying mop of grease. I can nearly feel it crawling down my neck. I'm sure at least a dozen different insects have made their homes in my hair, I can feel them crawling around there, sending cold shivers down my spine. I can't wait till they let me get up and have a bath. I can't wait until I *can* get up.

~*~

Things are strained. Strained would be an understatement actually. More like Catherine and Ernest can't be near each other without the temperature dropping a few degrees and the tension being tightened a notch. I just wish I knew *what* to do about it. Maybe when Carter's better...

"O'Neill." Teal'c motions me over to him.

"What is it?" I ask, jogging over to him.

"I have found something." He states calmly, not slowing his steady walk towards me.

"What?" I ask, turning around and falling back into step with him.

"An abandoned city." He glances out over the water. It's strange; on earth the water tends to have a slightly green tint to the blue. Here it's more of a golden colour, like a permanent sunset or something.

"An abandoned city?" I asked incredulously.

"Yes. I believe that Daniel Jackson would be most enthralled by this discovery." He converses.

"You going to show me this city some time soon?"

"Yes, but it is a distance away." He nods his head.

"I'm up to it." I point out, ready to go.

"As am I, however I do not believe it would be wise to leave Dr. Langford and Ernest alone with only Captain Carter." He points out.

Good point. Looks like the field trip will have to wait.

~*~

O'Neill is growing restless. He is a warrior. Unlike me, however, he has never been taught patience or methods with which to remain in control when left for long periods of time without battle.

Whereas I spend my time meditating and learning of the land, O'Neill launches himself from one project to another. One day he attempts to build a house out of wood, the next day he attempts to devise a better way for catching fish.

We do, however, have one ritual that is always followed. As the sun sets over the crimson waters we all gather in the cave. Dr. Langford and Ernest both remain silent during this time, as do O'Neill and I. Captain Carter is now also joining the ritual. Each night O'Neill places more logs onto the fire and waits until they are burning brightly. He then puts the meal on to cook. While the meal is cooking he takes his knife and carefully carves a notch in the wall, representing another day on this planet. Already the total notches reach 22. We have been here for nearly a month, and we still have no way to return home.

~Five~

~*~

"You can't do that!" How could he even suggest something like that? It hasn't even been a month yet and he wants to put them down as MIA.

"I was supposed to have done it a long time ago, Dr. Jackson." General Hammond says sorrowfully. I shouldn't be yelling at him because it's not his fault. It's not his fault that Sam and Jack and Teal'c and Ernest and Catherine are all stuck back on that planet. It's not his fault that we don't know whether they're alive or not, and it's not his fault that he has to put them MIA. But I'm still angry at him, simply because he's the closest one to target.

"So what now?" I sigh, deciding that I *am* being unfair to him. And to myself. And to Sam and Jack and everyone else. When did life get so complicated?

"Well, I'm going to have to assign a new SG-1 team, and it's your choice whether you'd like to stay on it or not." General Hammond said carefully.

No. No I don't want to be on SG-1 without the others. But I *do* want to find Sha're. And I want to find SG-1.

"I'd like to stay on SG-1, General." I can't believe I just betrayed my friends like that. But I will find them. I *will* find SG-1 and I will find Sha're.

~*~

"Damn it, I *don't* CARE!" One very testy female officer announces. Well, more like screams.

"Carter, you're being insubordinate..."

"It bears repeating, *Sir*, I DON'T CARE!"

"Jack, maybe it wouldn't be too bad if..."

"NO!" I glare at Catherine, and like a good little girl she pipes down. I wish.

"Jack, it's not going to kill her for goodness sake."

"You don't know that!" I point out, standing up and turning my attention back to Carter. "If you move your arm, Carter, and damage it even more then you can pretty well kiss your military career goodbye." I snap, and then freeze.

"I think I've already done that, Colonel." She says quietly, and I feel really guilty all of a sudden. I should have gotten them home sooner, I should have insisted that they go home and ignore that stupid display of high school chemistry.

"Carter, it's not that *I* don't want you to go and have a bath - hell, that would be very nice for everyone concerned, but I don't want you to damage your arm even more. I'm no doctor, Captain, but basic first aid tells me that thanks to Ernest's herbs and spices, you do stand a chance of getting your arm back. Sort of." Okay. That was one very technical and know- how speech that just came out of my mouth. I'm impressed. Why couldn't someone *important* have been here to hear me make such an impressive speech about a subject I know hardly anything about? Okay, so I do know quite a bit about *having* broken bones but...

"Colonel?"

"Yes?" I blink. Oops. I did it again. Now they all think I'm crazy. Even Ernest is giving me a wary look. Isn't a guy allowed to have a few fantasies every now and then? Okay, so maybe waving my arms around and pretending to bow *was* a freaky thing...but I can dream. Can't I?

~*~

"How are you doing?" Catherine asks me, settling herself next to me carefully, her eyes not meeting mine.

"About as well as can be expected." I smile slightly, reminding myself not to move. Actually, my arm has been better lately, but that's probably because we've been here for a few weeks now. According to the notches on the wall, which number 32, over a month. I think that's why my arm is starting to feel better. It still hurts though.

"Jack agreed to let you get up." She tells me, smiling slightly.

"Really? That's wonderful!" I can't help my smile. 32 days I've been on this planet, and I don't know what it looks like other than the inside of this cave and the inside of a castle that apparently doesn't exist anymore. About time they let me out.

"Not yet!" She warns me, putting her hand on my shoulder to keep my anxious body seated on the ground.

"What?" So that's really not fair.

"He wants to be here. To make sure you don't hurt yourself anymore." She faces the opposite wall again, leaning back against the one I'm leaning against.

"Well, he's certainly not hanging around when I have a bath!" I declare vehemently. The washes and spongings Catherine's been helping me with really don't compare to a bath. I can't wait to soak myself in some water, to feel *clean* for a change.

"I don't expect he will." Catherine smiles slightly.

I take the opportunity to study her. I didn't really know her well before we came on this mission, but she's lost something. She's lost the glint in her eye that told me she wasn't just another old lady stuck in the past. Now she is just another old lady, stuck in the past.

"What's happened to you?" The words slip out before I can stop them, and I colour slightly. That was incredibly rude; I don't even really know the woman.

She looks over at me, surprise on her face. "Well, other than getting stranded on a planet light years from home..." She fades away, and I'm surprised to see a tear trickling down her cheek. I would have thought that it wasn't too bad on this planet. Teal'c, the Colonel and Ernest all seem okay. Then again, Ernest has been here for a very long time. Teal'c is...well, Teal'c, and the Colonel...we all knew there was a risk of this happening. But Catherine, I don't think her change has to do with being stuck on this planet.

"Dr. Langford..." I narrow my eyes, hoping I'm not stepping out of place.

"Call me Catherine. Everyone else does." She smiles slightly.

"Even Teal'c?" I can't believe that. He still calls me Captain Carter, despite all the times I've tried to convince him to call me Sam.

"Well, okay, not everyone. But Jack and Ernest do..."

There. Ernest. This has to do with Ernest. Why else would her eyes flash with something for just the second that his name passes over her lips?

"So, Catherine, what's it like?" I ask, deliberately casual.

"What's what like?" She frowns, confused, and I realised I was too cryptic.

"Ernest." I say softly, and her face becomes unreadable in the dim light that filters in through the mouth of the cave.

"It's...expected I guess." She sighs, obviously not comfortable talking about it. But I'm bored, I'm bored out of my brain and this provides me with some distraction. Cruel and unfair, I know, but circumstances are a lot different to normal. I ignore my conscience.

"Then why are you so upset?" I ask her, still not quite sure what's wrong.

"I...We've changed so much." She sighs, shaking her head.

"Of course you've changed. It's been over fifty years..." I point out, my scientist brain stepping into place.

"I know that. Believe me, Captain, I know that, but I still believed that it would be different. That we'd just see each other and then everything would be okay."

"That you'd just pick up right where you left off." I feel a pang of pain in my own heart. I could relate to that. Isn't that exactly what Dad and I had done? Not talked for years after Mom's death, and then tried to make up. Only he still thought of me as 'his little princess' and I still thought of him as the person who's killed my Mom, though indirectly. I shake my head slightly, pushing the thoughts away. It doesn't do any good musing over the past and wishing you'd done things differently. It's not possible to just pick up right where you left off.

"I was so...shocked when Daniel came to me..." She whispers, but I can still hear the tremour on her voice. I reach over and squeeze her hand slightly. I may not know her well, but Catherine was there for me nearly every time I woke up, comforting me. I owe her something.

"I thought that...It was so long ago, so far away. Like a nightmare from another lifetime." She bites her lip, her eyes glistening with tears. "But the hope, the memories...It was incredible." She states, and a half smile sneaks through her sorrow as she relives the joy of the moment when she found out Ernest was possibly still alive.

"I was so excited, so eager to just run back into Ernest's arms and be happy..." I can't say anything, even if I wanted to. Nothing I could say could comfort her, and I can't think of a response to this kind of emotion.

"When we stepped through that Stargate and I saw him...I didn't recognise him Sam. My first thought was along the lines of, 'Oh my God, there's a naked old man running around here!'. And *then* I realised that it was Ernest." She snorts through her tears, disgusted at her emotions. "I...I didn't even feel compelled to touch him, Sam. I wanted to stay as far away from him as I could...it wasn't Ernest I was looking at." She whispers, licking her lips as the tears run down her face.

I can only look at this woman with amazement and awe. She has been through so much, suffered so much heartache, and now she's got to go through it all again.

"I'm angry at him, Sam." She says suddenly, cradling herself against me. "I'm angry that he doesn't talk to me. I'm angry because he doesn't believe that I'm Catherine, just like I don't believe that he's Ernest." She whispers brokenly. My arm complains violently as I move and place my good arm comfortingly around her shoulders. It's the most I can do, but I know that a comforting hug can help a lot.

"I still love him..." She says eventually as the silence in the cave wears on. "But I'm in love with his memory, not with him." She shakes against me. "I'm awful, Sam, an awful person."

"No you're not an awful person." I state it firmly and honestly, because it's the truth. "You've changed, Catherine, that's all. Both of you. You've become different people." I try and soothe her hacking sobs.

"But I still *want* to love him. I still *want* to live happily ever after with him." She moans against me, starting to gather her control again.

"I can't help you with that, Catherine." I admit eventually. "I can't even offer you advice because I don't have any. I do think that you should try to get to know him again, find out just *how* he has changed." I suggest, knowing that my words are empty and not really a solution. You came to the wrong person, Catherine, I suck with relationships. Ask my Dad. Ask my brother. Hell, ask Jonas if you can get a temporary pass into hell.

We sit like that for a while, in an awkward silence that's still comforting because we've created an alliance. There's an unspoken bond between us because we're the only females and we've taken up the roles of best friends/sisters/mother-daughter. I squeeze her slightly and wonder what she's going to do.

I look up gratefully as the Colonel arrives, ready to escort me to my very first bath on this abandoned planet.

~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~X~