As Time Passes By
Summary: Sam gets a chance to put her training to use, and Jack gets to see her in action. Sam is a cadet, and Jack is a Major (after Charlie is born).
A/N: This ended up a lot longer than I was expecting, but I think it works pretty well.
"Cadets!" Colonel Ronald James barked. "You have each received your orders, and you know the role you will play.
'Team leaders, you will be scored not only on whether your objective is met, but also on how it is or is not met. Team members, you will be judged on meeting your objective, as well as your individual performance. This will be determined by a combination of the judges' scores and comments from your team leaders.
'The judges are instructors, with one exception. We have brought in an officer to give an impartial score for each of you.
'You will begin the exercise out in the field, where you will stay tonight. Keep in mind, your team can be captured at any time, including before the exercise begins.
'Now, team leaders, round up your team members, get geared up, and head out! Where you go is up to you, within the parameters you were given.
With those words, the instructor stepped back, watching how each cadet reacted to both his words and the sudden surge of adrenalin he would expect them to experience. He half-chuckled to himself. If they really thought they knew what they were up against, they had another thing coming. This was his first year leading the practical exercise, and he had decided to up the ante. He had called in an old friend from Special Ops to be his "guest" judge, and Major Jack O'Neill had been told to ride them hard and spare no mercy.
Colonel James watched as Cadet Redmond, the Red Team leader, calmly rounded up the members of her team, then began assigning tasks. Cadet Anderson, the Blue Team leader, seemed less calm, however, as he looked around for his missing team members. The Yellow Team leader, Cadet Johns, seemed to be a combination of the two others, barking out orders. The fourth team, the Green Team, led by Cadet Cho, seemed to be faring better. It looked like, to start, it might be between the Red Team and the Green Team. You never could tell, though, who would handle the different obstacles.
By this time, all of the teams had made their way out of the clearing, scattering to the wind. Jack O'Neill walked out of the forest with a smirk on his face.
"Well, this should be interesting," Jack said. "Half of your teams have a clue, and the other half don't."
"Now, Jack," Ron admonished, "you know the first few minutes are usually a little…frenzied."
"But how often do the 'frenzied' ones pull it together?" Jack asked.
"True. But, you never know!"
In the woods to the north, Sam had quickly realized that Cadet Cho had become flustered and unsure of what to do. She knew that someone needed to speak up, or the exercise would be a wash. And since no one else was stepping up, it was going to fall to her to do so.
"Cadet Cho, if I may, sir," Sam said.
"Yes, Cadet Carter?"
"Sir, I believe I might know a suitable place for us to set up camp for the night."
"Where, Carter?" Cho asked.
"It's about two clicks northwest of here. There's good cover, and enough clearing to set up camp."
"Lead the way, Carter, unless anyone else has a better idea," Cho questioned, looking at the team's faces.
The team headed off behind Sam, taking care to keep an eye out for adversaries of any kind. One time, she signaled them to stop. They hid, as one, and listened as the Red Team passed them. Once the other team had gone past their position, Sam crept out of their hiding place, checking for any stragglers, Seeing none, she signaled the "all clear', and the group continued toward their destination.
A short time later, Sam was relieved to find that none of the other teams had chosen to use the site she had in mind. Whether it was ignorance or lack of thought, she didn't care. She was just glad not to look like an idiot to her team.
Jack, with the training that he had, would be heading out into the woods to find each of the teams. He would make notes and observations on each team member, and then the unit as a whole. He would then deliver his report back to the judges, at which time they would deliberate.
The teams would be out in the field for up to five days. Opponent team members who were captured would stay with the team who caught them, and they were allowed to escape. Upon doing so, they would head back to find their team. If the team had all been captured, they would either continue on their own for the remainder of the time, hoping their teammates also escaped, or they would head back to home base. The second option, of course, would not be looked upon favorably. Cadets were expected to continue until the end. If they didn't have the strong will and temerity to stick it out, maybe the Air Force wasn't the right choice for them.
Jack had been supplied with dossiers for all of the team members. They had included photos, so he would know who was who, but did not include observations or remarks from any of the instructors. His observations would truly be unpartisan. He had taken notice of one of the cadets, however: Cadet Samantha Carter. He recognized her as soon as he saw the dossier picture, although it had been eight years since that night in the German hospital ward. There was no mistaking her for anyone else.
He had been right in thinking she was going to be a heartbreaker. She had been lovely back then; now, she was "simply" beautiful. There was a spark that shined in her eyes, even in her picture, that couldn't be mistaken. Even in her picture, you could feel her energy.
Jack shook himself out of his fugue and grabbed his pack. He had four teams to find in the woods and to observe. He decided to head in the general direction the Red Team had taken. It would be interesting to see if Cadet Redmond had held it together, or if he'd fallen apart.
Two hours later, Jack caught up with the Red Team. He found a position outside of their camp where he could see everyone, and hunkered down. He figured he would stick with them for a couple of hours, and then head out in search of the next team.
Time passed quickly as Jack made his observations. The team seemed to be faring fairly well, with only a couple of minor issues cropping up. They were working well together, with one or two incidents being the exception. He did notice, however, that no one seemed to be watching the perimeter. He knew that if an opponent, or "enemy", came along, the team would be fairly easy to capture. He made sure to note this in his observations.
Too soon, it was time to head out to the next position. He hiked toward the Green Team's last heading. They could have gone in any direction by now, but he would pick up their trail. He doubted that these cadets had covered their tracks very well, just out of lack of experience. Within a few minutes, he was following signs that would lead to one of the teams, even if it didn't turn out to be the Green Team.
After an hour of hiking, he nearly ran into a cadet by themselves. He was far enough away that he almost couldn't tell, but it looked like one of the female cadets from Green was checking the perimeter. As he moved closer cautiously, he could see that it was, in fact, Cadet Carter. He moved stealthily through the foliage, looking for any signs that she had seen or heard him.
Just then, a twig under his foot snapped like a gunshot in the silence. He froze, waiting to see if she had heard him. What a dumb mistake, letting himself get distracted, even a little bit!
Sam turned toward the sound, straining to see or hear anything else. She slowly moved toward where it had come from, to make sure it wasn't one of their opponents. Suddenly, there was a dash of movement, and she darted toward the direction whoever (or whatever) it was was heading in. she just caught a glance of a regulation olive green pack, and diverted in that direction. She gave chase, not knowing who was ahead of her, only knowing that they needed to be caught. Her team's security, and success, depended on it.
Jack cursed himself for his distraction, and for letting her seemingly get the drop on him. He could hear her behind him, and was somewhat surprised by her conditioning. True, cadets needed to be and stay in shape, as evidenced by their PT requirements, but his job duties necessitated an even higher level of fitness. She actually seemed to be closing the gap between them, slowly but surely.
Sam could feel herself getting closer to her prey, whoever they were. She let her instincts guide her, and, with a last burst of speed, made a flying tackle and landed on her quarry.
Jack had the wind knocked out of him as his pursuer laid him out and he landed on his stomach. He had to give her points for her tenacity and daring, considering he was an unknown quantity in this entire exercise. No one knew he would be out among the cadets except Colonel James.
'She probably thinks I'm one of the cadets,' he thought with a small chuckle. He decided to let her in on the secret. She would know soon enough, anyways.
He made himself relax completely, going limp. He could tell she was just about to get off him when he made his move. He flipped them both, then turned himself over so he was on top of her. Acting quickly, he disarmed her and made sure she couldn't move. He saw her eyes go wide as she realized he was no cadet.
"Hello, Cadet Carter," he intoned, biting back a grin. This was going to be fun, he could tell.
"Sir! I'm so sorry! I just…I heard something, and I thought it was a cadet from one of the other teams so…I'm so sorry!" she apologized again.
"At ease, cadet. You were doing what you thought you needed to do. It's not your fault that I was your prey," Jack said with a smirk. He pushed himself off of Sam, and sat beside her. She raised herself to a sitting, then standing, position, and reached down to give the superior officer a hand up. Once they were on a (somewhat) even standing, Sam looked closer at jack, then shook her head at herself.
"Something wrong, cadet?"
"No, sir. It's just, well, you look familiar to me. Have-have we met before, sir?"
Jack mentally debated with himself, while giving nothing away. He hadn't anticipated this situation and, for once, was at a loss.
"Ah, hell," he muttered. "I guess you could say we have, although you probably don't remember it. It was a long time ago."
"You remember?" he asked her, surprised.
"How could I not? I thought that night was never going to end, and then in wheeled this nice airman, and he helped distract me until I could fall asleep. I never got to thank you, sir."
"No thanks necessary. Did you get my note that I left? They decided to ship me home, and there was a plane headed that way that afternoon."
Sam blushed. "Well, actually…I still have it," she said quietly.
Jack grinned. "Sorry, what was that?"
If possible, Sam turned an even deeper shade of red. "I still have it, sir," she said, just slightly louder than before.
"Yes, sir. I-"
Don't worry about it, cadet. You don't have to explain yourself."
"Yeah, wish my brother felt that way."
"Sorry, sir. Just thinking out loud."
"So, I take it your surgery went okay?"
"Yes, sir. And I ate lots of blue Jell-O and ice cream after."
"Blue Jell-O? Blue?"
Sam smiled. "It was all they had."
"Poor kid. Sore tonsils, and not a lick of good Jell-O to be had!"
"Actually, sir, I like blue Jell-O," she admitted.
Jack looked at her like he thought she had a screw loose. "You like blue Jell-O?"
"Yes, sir. Good memories," she smiled, her whole face lighting up.
When he saw the look on her face, Jack had to stop himself for a second. Unexpectedly, he almost had to remind himself that he was a happily married father. He couldn't remember ever feeling this connection with anyone, even with his wife.
Sam felt the difference in his demeanor, then it occurred to her, what they'd been doing: it felt like they'd almost been flirting. The realization made her cheeks pink again. Feeling out of her element, she retreated back to protocol.
"If I may, sir, I should get back to my watch."
"By all means, Carter. Go, watch. And I'd appreciate if you kept this little meeting between us."
"No one's supposed to know I'm observing the teams."
"Oh! Of course not, sir! My lips are sealed."
"Carry on, then Carter." He paused. "It was good talking with you again."
"Yes, it was, sir. Thank you."
Two days later found Sam on watch again. This time, she wasn't alone; she had Cadet Johnson out with her. This allowed them to patrol more ground. With the late hour (after 0200), Sam knew an "attack" was more likely
As she made her way through the woods surrounding their camp, Sam stayed alert. She heard movement to her right and dashed left, into some bushes so she could see who was coming. There was an off-chance that it was only Johnson making his way around, although more quickly than she was. A few seconds later, the source of the noise came into view, and it wasn't her teammate.
There was a contingent of Red Team members heading straight for the Green Team's camp, and she was right in their way. She hoped Johnson was far enough away not to stumble into a trap, but close enough to see what was going on and warn their team.
The "enemy" was still far enough away that she thought she might be able to make a break for it. Crouching low to the ground, she slowly backed away and to the side of the path her opponents were headed toward. When she had gained some distance, Sam uncurled herself from her stance and turned, moving as quickly and quietly as she could back to camp. Her team's survival counted on her getting there before the enemy.
She made good time, and, before she knew it she was standing in front of her team leader, reporting. Cadet Cho began barking out orders, preparing them to surprise the other team when they arrived.
A thought struck Sam. "Sir, if I may?"
"What is it, Carter?"
As Sam laid out her idea, Cho began to smile, then grin. He was very glad Carter was on his team! Without making her wait, he told her, "Make it happen."
"Yes, sir!" Sam saluted, then moved to make her idea into reality.
A few minutes later, the Red Team crashed into the clearing, weapons raised. Seemingly overrun, the Green Team members slowly raised their hands. They waited and watched while the Red Team grouped them together. Cho mentally counted and realized with an inward smile that Carter had been right: the Red Team had brought all but one member with them. Once he realized this, he gave a subtle signal to his team. Before they even knew it, the Red Team had been overpowered, and Johnson came into camp with weapons raided, as back-up. Team Red quickly realized that they had been beaten.
Team Green swiftly gathered and subdued their prisoners. Cho decided that he would let Carter interrogate them, as a reward. They still needed to find the final Red Team member, along with their captives. After telling Carter this, she smiled, thanking him, and then turned to the captives. She observed them silently for a few minutes, then pointed to one.
"Him." She quickly picked up the indicated foe from his place on the ground and led him away. Behind her, she could hear Cho reminding her team to search the others for weapons, or anything that could be used as one.
Twenty minutes later, Sam brought the prisoner back to the group, then went to her team leader. As she explained to Cho, he had been rather easy to "break". Sam wasn't altogether certain he even realized what he had given away. Cho decided that, with the information they had, they should be able to capture the Red Team, but still maintain a strong enough presence in camp that escape would not be possible for their adversaries. He would leave Carter in charge at base camp while he led the assault on the other team.
Plans were finalized, groups were formed as members were assigned to either stay with Carter or go with Cho. Finally, everything was set, and Cho's group moved out.
Out in the woods, Jack observed from a far enough distance that he wasn't seen. He didn't think Carter had said anything about him to her team, but he couldn't be sure. Now, he had a decision to make. Should he stay with the group defending the camp and prisoners, or go with the other group? Jack followed the group leaving the area, deciding that was the best course of action. When he figured out what they were doing (he'd been too far away to make out their lowered voices), he knew he was right.
With a minimum of resistance, the Green Team took over the Red Team's camp and captured the remaining team members. Jack was impressed with the efficiency the team used working together. He was also impressed that the team took the "victory" in stride. They began grouping their captives together in preparation for the trek back to base camp.
A few minutes later, the remainder of the Green Team and their prisoners entered the Red camp. Once everyone had arrived, the victors started the march back. Again, Jack kept to the woods, observing all the players. Even though it seemed to be a foregone conclusion that the exercise was over, and the winner determined, you never could tell when things could change.
Eight hours later, the group marched back into base camp, presenting the prisoners to Colonel James. The colonel didn't give anything away on his face, but solemnly congratulated Cadet Cho on his team's performance.
"Cadet Cho, congratulations on your team's capture of your enemies." He directed his attention to the entire group. "Cadets, we will be meeting with our independent observer and the team leaders, and then the judges will meet to determine final scores. Team leaders, I expect your post-mission reports and personnel reviews by end of class tomorrow. Dismissed!"
On that note, the winning team cloistered together, smiling and patting each other on the back. No one seemed to notice the officer sneaking out of the woods, but then Sam turned her head. None of the other cadets appeared to pay attention, though, and she smiled when Jack gave her a jaunty salute. He headed inside to give his report.
"Well, Jack, what did you see?" Col. James asked, once the judges had all convened.
"Overall, this is a good group, colonel. There were some stand-out cadets, though."
"Such as?" Col. James asked.
"The obvious answer is Cadet Cho, since his team won. Cadet Redmond, though, stands out as well. Her team had actually already captured the other teams before they went after the Green Team. Fortunately, Cadet Cho had Cadets Carter and Johnson on patrol, and they were able to take the invading team by surprise, and capture them.
"Once that happened, Cho had Carter interrogate one of the Red Team members. Presumable, she was able to get the intel they needed. Then, Cho led most of his team in an assault on the Red Camp, leaving Carter and Johnson behind to follow with the other prisoners.
"If Cadet Cho hadn't had anyone on patrol, or if Carter and/or Johnson had been caught unaware by the Red Team, Cadet Redmond may well have come out on top. I'd say you definitely have to give Redmond credit for that."
"Thank you, Major," Col. James said.
"Although, you gotta give Carter points, too. She had that intel from the Red Team within twenty minutes. I'd say that's pretty impressive."
Col. James and the other judges looked surprised. "Well, I-I guess so. I'll have to find out how she did that," he stammered.
"That could be an interesting story, Colonel," Jack replied.
"Yes, it could. Thank you for your help, Jack," Col. James said with a smile.
"My pleasure, sir. Any time," Jack answered.
Outside, most of the cadets had scattered. Sam, however, was one of the few remaining, hoping she might get a chance to talk to Jack – Major O'Neill. She still couldn't believe that he had ended up being the final judge. What were the chances, after all this time, of seeing him again?
While she had been completing the exercise, she had stayed focused on the mission. Now that it was over, she found her mind wandering back to that night in the hospital, so many years ago.
She had been disappointed, after reading the note, to find that he was gone. She knew he had to go when and where they told him; she just wished she'd gotten a chance to thank him, and say goodbye.
Sam was shaken out of her reverie by the sight of Major O'Neill coming out of the building where the judges were meeting. He smiled when he saw her waiting, and she smiled back as he walked up to her. She pulled herself to attention.
"At ease, cadet." Jack paused. "Good job out there, Carter."
Sam glowed with pride. "Thank you, Sir!"
"How did you get that cadet to spill so fast?"
"I'd tell you, sir, but then I'd have to shoot you. And that would get awfully messy," she teased.
"Yes, it would. So, you're not going to tell me?"
"Let's just say it's a little trick I picked up watching the battle of wills between my dad and my brother."
"Got a bit of a stubborn streak running in the family?"
"In spades. I'm not sure which one of them is worse! And, these days, I pretty much get the same treatment as my dad."
"My brother hates the Air Force. He resents the time it took my father away from us growing up. And, he blames it for my mom's death, along with my dad."
Sam said this in a very matter-of-fact tone, but Jack could see that this really bothered her.
"I'm sorry about your mom, your brother, too. That can't have been easy to deal with growing up."
"It's okay. All you can really do is just accept it and move on. My brother isn't going to change his mind, and there's no way to go back and change things. Even if you could go back, you couldn't change anything. You would never know what kind of effect that would have on the world."
"I have a feeling…what's your major?"
"Theoretical astrophysics, sir."
Sam prickled a little at this, ready to defend herself. "Is something wrong, sir?"
"Nope, no problem, Carter. But you know you just proved how much smarter you are than me, right?"
The lightness of his tone with that statement made her smile before she could hold it back. "If you say so, sir."
"So, what's next for you, Carter?"
"Well, I'll get to go flying soon, and then they'll decide what they want me to do."
"Ah, the infamous 'they'." Jack smirked.
Sam smiled back. "I know, right?"
"So, maybe I'll get to see you around some time."
"That'd be nice, sir." She paused. "So, your leg healed well?"
"Oh, yeah. Every time."
"Every time? Just how many times have you broken your leg?"
"That's actually classified, Carter. I could tell you, but then I'd have to shoot you," he joked.
"Well, we can't have that, sir. How will I ever save you if you've shot me?"
"Good point, Carter. Ten points to the genius."
"You are a genius, aren't you?"
"Sorry, sir. I don't know what you're talking about."
Suddenly realizing he'd lost track of time, Jack looked at his watch, then swore softly under his breath.
"I gotta go, Carter. I have a bag to pack, and a plane to catch."
Sam's face fell in disappointment. "It was good seeing you again, Major."
"You, too, Carter. Glad you're doing well. I know you'll be a great officer."
She blushed, again, at the compliment. "Thank you, sir. That means a lot to me."
"Hopefully, we'll run into each other again…well, not literally next time!" Jack smiled. "Take care of yourself, Carter."
"You, too, sir. Stay safe."
As Major Jack O'Neill walked away, Sam wondered if he would ever show up again. She really hoped so.