A/N: Written in honor of the Gateworld Ship Appreciation (2.0) thread 2011 Shipsgiving celebration (my original plan was to create a Thanksgiving-centric story, but the Muse was fickle...so you get what she gave me). Thanks Hedwig for the excellent Beta –your insight made the story better. Special thanks to polrobin for helpful info on military orders *salutes*.
Set approximately two months after the end of 'Threads' (or 'Moebius', if you prefer): in my own unique way of looking at things, it appears to me that the fishing scene in 'Threads' occurs in the early spring –the trees are in full leaf, but it is cold enough that everyone is wearing jackets; and the events of 'Avalon' occur in the late Fall –in the scene where Hank Landry and Jack are playing chess outside, the deciduous trees are bare, and both men are warmly dressed. I understand that the seasonal cues are dictated by the filming schedule of the series, but I do not think that anything in the show precludes the possibility of a time lapse between these episodes.
It's team night.
It's been a long time since Jack was on the team, but he's here, too –firmly enthroned on what has become 'his' end of her couch, long legs stretched out in front of him, sipping placidly on his beer.
She's paused in the doorway, sandwich platter in one hand and chips in the other, watching her team…her family.
Daniel is sitting on the floor between the couch and the low coffee table, contemplating the chess board in front of him with his brows knitted in concentration; Teal'c sits primly on the chair across from him, waiting for his next move. They've been at this awhile and from Daniel's frustrated expression, she's pretty sure that Teal'c is winning. She smiles affectionately. When he began giving the Jaffa lessons, she had warned Daniel that Teal'c would master the game in no time. The smile dies prematurely on her lips…humor is elusive tonight.
Tonight is the last night.
Tomorrow Jack will be leaving the SGC forever.
That thought alone is hard to comprehend, but there's more:
She's leaving, too. In a few weeks she will be headed to her new duty station at Nellis AFB: Research and Development at Area 51 –an opportunity to immerse herself in pure scientific study.
Teal'c has already resigned the SGC. They need him on Dakara -he's a voice of reason in the chaos that surrounds the birth of the Free Jaffa Nation. He's returned only to join them for the last team night: to say goodbye before they go their separate ways.
Daniel just received permission from the IOA to join the Atlantis expedition –he has several weeks to get everything in order before the Daedalus takes him to the Ancient city.
It will never be like this again.
She experiences a brief stab of guilt; it's her and Jack's choices that have changed the status quo…abandoning them to whatever commander would come next. Removing herself from the team seems to have kicked off the exodus; as though there's no purpose in staying, with half of the team…the family…moving to different states.
She shakes off the misplaced emotion –both of their friends seem content. Daniel is finally getting the opportunity to visit the city of the Ancients; she can tell he's excited, but keeping his enthusiasm under tight reign. Teal'c would probably have been leaving anyway: his people are finally, irrevocably free. It's the goal he's worked toward since before she knew him –the very reason he joined the SGC in the first place.
Still…the parting of ways is painful.
She sighs and sets the food on the edge of the coffee table, catching Jack's eye as she drags her gaze up from the chess board. The sympathy she sees in those brown depths is like a balm to her raw emotions. Stepping carefully around Daniel, she lowers herself to the couch beside him and is grateful when she feels his warm fingers curl around hers.
Pulling one knee up to her chest, she props her chin on it and braces it with her unoccupied hand; the denim of her favorite pair of jeans is soft on her skin -worn to a pale blue from repeated washings.
She watches Daniel's fingers play across the chessboard, flitting from one piece to the next as he considers his options; he finally concedes with a disgusted sigh and tips his queen over in defeat.
Teal'c inclines his head in smug acceptance, the ghost of a smile playing at the edge of his lips.
She takes the dishes to the kitchen sink and plunges them into the warm, soapy water. The task is ideal –something tactile to focus on and suspend thought for awhile.
She feels the presence in the room before a word is spoken.
His bass voice is like warm honey. She closes her eyes and grips the edge of the sink: she's really going to miss him. There's an old adage that says friends are the family you choose; she's not certain that she can be the good soldier through this. Losing Dad in the spring was hard enough, and now…now it feels like she's losing the rest of the family. Drying her hands on the dishtowel, she turns to face the towering figure standing stiffly in the doorway.
"Hey, Teal'c," she manages.
"You are distressed."
She leans back against the kitchen counter in a parody of relaxation, smiling tightly.
Teal'c doesn't beat around the bush; it used to make her uncomfortable, but she accepted it as part of who he is a long time ago. His bluntness has always helped her, forcing her to face the difficult questions and thoughts that she's avoiding.
She's silent for a long moment, not quite sure how to wrap her feelings in adequate words.
He waits serenely with his hands clasped behind his back.
"Things are changing. I can't help but think that if I…if Jack…," she faltered at his name –the appellation still sounding misplaced on her lips, "if we hadn't made the choices we did…that the team wouldn't be splitting up now."
"You have not chosen my path for me, Colonel Carter," he replies patiently, "I have chosen it for myself."
She nods understanding: he's confirming that he would have been leaving anyway. The words ease some of the ache inside of her.
"We have fought and won many battles together. It has been an honor to serve by your side."
The words fall off her lips like the fears of a child: "Frankly I don't even know if we'll..."
"We will see each other again: of this, I am certain."
Dropping her gaze to the floor, she utters a sigh…a self-depreciating huff.
"Are events not progressing as you and General O'Neill desire?"
"No…I mean, yes…they are…" she stumbles on the words, eyes snapping back up to his face.
He walks over and cups her shoulders in his hands; the gentle expression in his eyes catches her off-guard.
"I have observed you both for many years, Colonel Carter. I can think of no better mate for you than O'Neill, and had he the lifespan of a Jaffa, I do not believe that he could find as formidable of a warrior as you to match him. "
She's stunned to silence at his words –realizing that he knows more than he's let on. He was there as she fell apart when Jack was stranded off world with Maybourne; he was with Jack when she had been stuck aboard Prometheus –he had shared with her the colonel's frustration at not being able to locate and rescue her, but she realizes that he has probably known far longer.
Her arms circle around him of their own accord, and she presses her cheek against his shoulder. He simply holds her as she leans into his strength.
The night is winding down, but they seem reluctant to part company.
The light reflects off of Daniel's honey-brown hair, and she reaches out and ruffles it. He looks up at her questioningly, and through the veil of tears brimming in her eyes she sees a flash of regret in his expression. He lays a hand on her knee and she almost loses it. She swallows the lump in her throat. Slipping off the couch, she sinks to the floor beside him, wraps her arms around his neck and pulls him close. He rocks her gently, almost imperceptibly.
"It's worth it," he whispers into her shoulder.
He pulls back far enough to fix her with a penetrating gaze, "It's worth it," he repeats solemnly, his eyes flicking up to Jack.
She knows what he means…he's been there from the beginning. This is worth it -Jack leaving…her leaving; the only way they can retain both their honor and their relationship is to transfer out of the same chain of command. He's also telling her that no matter what amount of time life hands them, it IS worth it. He only had a year with Sha're, but he's told her in the past that even if he could do things over, he wouldn't give up that year to spare himself the pain of losing her.
She slides out of his embrace and feels Jack's warm, strong hand on her shoulder and reaches up to squeeze his fingers, receiving an answering squeeze in return.
They say their goodbyes at the door and watch as the tail lights of Daniel's car fade into the distance, shrouded in the inky blackness of midnight. They linger there, staring into the darkness for several minutes, until finally Jack closes the door, and with a gentle hand in the small of her back, he guides her back to the couch. She nods absently when he offers to pop a movie into the DVD player.
Sitting next to him on the couch, she's pretending to be interested in 'The Wizard of Oz' even though she couldn't tell you what scene just played. The only thing on her mind at the moment is that after tonight, he's going to be 2000 miles away. Well, that's exaggerating –it'll only be 1500 miles, give or take. She snuggles in closer to his side and is rewarded when his arm drops across her shoulders.
This should feel weird.
It should feel wrong.
But it doesn't.
It feels warm and perfect and…home.
She leans her head on his shoulder.
The fact that he still calls her that when they're alone makes her smile. She tilts her chin up to meet his gaze –his brows are pulled together in concern, the corners of his lips turned down in a frown. One eyebrow tilts…a question.
"You okay?" he finally murmurs low and deep.
She nods, never taking her eyes off of his.
The Permanent Change of Station orders lay open on the table, almost as if they need the physical evidence that pursuing this relationship is no longer a court-martialable offense. She doesn't want him to go, but she knows this is one of the freedoms purchased by his deal with the devil.
Her orders to transfer to Nellis lay beside his on the polished wood surface, barely touching.
It's official –he handed over command of the SGC to General Hank Landry this morning. President Hayes had assured them it was official upon his receipt of Jack's resignation letter…the one he had been too stubborn to accept, offering the PCS instead. But now they breathe easier.
She's not sure at what point she decided how this last evening would play out…she's never considered herself a seductress. It's nothing like that at all. What washes over her are the memories –eight years of them, thick with emotion: respect, trust, friendship, love…longing. The last couple of months had added a new layer to the relationship; it could be called dating, after its own fashion…nothing between them has ever been completely normal and 'dating' has been no exception.
She kneels bedside him on the couch and presses her lips to his. She's acutely aware of his hand gliding to the small of her back, steadying her and teasing her all in one tantalizing touch. She captures his full bottom lip between hers and he relaxes, giving her control…a soft moan escapes her at his display of trust. She cups his face in her hands and tilts her head to cover his mouth completely.
The brush of his tongue against her lip still catches her off-guard and she over-balances, almost falling on top of him. She breaks the kiss, giggling at her own clumsiness, and finds the touch of an amused smile on his lips.
She shifts her weight, swinging easily into his lap, one knee on either side. His hands slide up to her hips as she leans in to kiss him again. The stubble of his five o'clock shadow scratches lightly on her skin as she works along his jaw. She pauses at the crook of his neck to take in his scent. He smells clean…soap, generic shampoo, a trace of aftershave…there's something else there that is indefinably Jack, and she can't get enough of it. She knows scent is a keen memory trigger and impetuously decides to hang on to one of his shirts when he moves, though she's never done anything so girly in her life. She inhales deeply, tracing his clavicle with her lips.
His sigh breathes past her ear, provoking a warm ache deep inside her.
She sits up slowly, cradled on his lap, and looks into those amber eyes. They're a little unfocused at the moment, and she knows that she's kicked off the goal-oriented part of his mind: knowledge is power, and this kind of power is heady.
He cups her face in one hand as he draws his focus back, and she's captured in the guileless gaze of the man that has become sanctuary for her. She lays a hand on his chest, her fingers splayed over his heart, and knows a piece of her own is permanently bound there.
Clambering out of his lap, she holds out a hand to help him up. Even after he rises, she's reluctant to let his hand go and interlaces her fingers with his, leading him back to the bedroom.
She wakes tangled in cool cotton sheets and warm Jack O'Neill, wanting nothing more than this…every day for the rest of her life. He's lying on his side, his arm draped across her hip as he dozes.
She knows that the distance is going to be okay; whether it's 2000 miles or 2000 light-years, what ties them together is far stronger than what keeps them apart.