Passing Torches

"They all look so young."

Jack had to smile. She sounded sad, somehow. Poignant. Wistful? He glanced at the woman standing next to him, his eyes grazing the brand-spankin'-new jewelry on her collar before sliding back up to the few wisps of gray that had somehow made their way into the tight chignon at her nape. He'd caught her frowning at those strands the other day in their bathroom mirror, but he knew better than to say anything about it. Finally, at the age of sixty-cough, he'd found himself endowed with a goodly amount of wisdom.

"How so?"

Sam simply shrugged. "Just young, is all."

"I know for a fact that they aren't all that young. I've seen their files." Jack leaned in closer to add, "In fact, a few of them are in their forties."

"That's not what I meant, Jack."

"Then what did you mean?"

When she didn't immediately answer him, he bumped her with his shoulder. A few moments later, he nudged her with his elbow. When that still elicited no response, he poked her in the ribs with his index finger.

Even though Sam had only just become a General, she'd long since mastered the art of acting like one. Nodding in the direction of the assembled teams, she sent her husband a pointed look. "We're supposed to be paying attention, Jack."

It took all his strength not to groan. He pursed his lips and refocused across the 'Gateroom, towards where the newbies had all lined up in neat rows facing the 'Gate. Thirty-two people standing in sets of four-eight new teams being sworn in. They were into the SG-thirties, now, closing in on forty SG teams, which was pretty cool. However, the reason Jack and Sam had been extended an invitation to the ceremony was that the high-ups were finally giving ownership of SG-1 to a new team. General Price had asked them to come and pass the torch. Symbolically, of course—they weren't actually doing anything but being there, but the implication still remained.

The designation had been unused for some time- Teal'c, of course, had been the first to leave, followed by Sam. She'd been to Atlantis and back, and then along had come Ben, and that had kind of been that. Then Mitchell had taken the reins at the new Alpha Site and Daniel had finally retired from off-world travel and taken over the job of cataloging and indexing the enormous piles of alien stuff that had been warehoused for years. Daniel and Mitchell had been the last two holdouts—the team had been more emblematic than a real functioning unit for months before they'd simply stopped being anything at all.

Jack didn't think Sam really missed it. She was heading up R & D again-overseeing the operations from DC. She'd been given those shiny new stars the week before at a quiet ceremony in the Pentagon. It was the best gig she'd had in a while, and the fact that she could be home 100% of the time was a definite perk. Not that she'd been off-world much since Ben was born-but she'd been gone more than she'd really wanted to be away, and the decision for her to take this post had seemed to be an easy one.

"I mean, just look at this guy." Sam leaned closer to Jack, her head shaking slightly. "Is he really old enough to be a Colonel?"

General Price had just officially announced the new leader of SG-1. Colonel Grannin was a tall guy, athletic and fit without seeming to be too full of himself. Red headed and fresh-faced, it seemed impossible that he had really earned the chest-full of medals and ribbons that he sported. To Jack, it looked like he was just barely out of high school, certainly not a two time college graduate who had seen active combat more than other guys twice his age. But then, Jack had known another youthful officer like Grannin once. She'd been just as eager as this guy seemed, just as fervent. Grannin had just as stellar a record as had the young Captain Carter. And to his credit, he hadn't challenged Jack to arm-wrestle or mentioned his reproductive organs when they'd met earlier in the reception area. That kind of gave the edge to Grannin.

Not that Jack would ever admit that. "Sam, he's got a Master's Degree in engineering. He's served four tours in Afghanistan. He's loaded with commendations. Obviously he's got the experience for the job."

"I know—but still." Her shoulder rose slightly as Sam offered half a shrug.

That appeared to have sufficed as her argument. Jack swallowed a tart response. Ben had been left with Glinda for the weekend, and Jack had that hotel room and his wife—All. To. Himself. He wasn't stupid enough to muck that up by opening his piehole. See? There was that wisdom he'd acquired.

"He just seems too—I don't know. Something." Pause. Sam shrugged again. "They all do, don't they?"

"O-kaaaay." He was sure he'd muttered that too quietly to be heard.

"What?"

Apparently, he'd been wrong. Jack looked at his wife. "What, what?"

"You said 'okay'."

"Yeah, so?"

"So, what did it mean?"

"The 'okay'?"

"Yes."

He rocked forward slightly before answering. "It might have meant I agreed with you."

"Not that 'okay'." She shook her head. "That was a sarcastic 'okay'. Like you were agreeing with me only for the sake of agreeing with me."

"Isn't that what I'm supposed to do?"

"You think it is?"

"Well, yeah. Kinda."

Sam paused, then ran the tip of her tongue across her lip before continuing. "I want to be agreed with because I'm right. Not because you think it's expedient."

Jack turned to fully face his wife. "Sam, I'm just trying to communicate here. Tell me what your problem is."

Her face shadowed for a moment—her eyes clouded before she shook her head again and raised a rueful smile. "I don't know. I'm probably being stupid. I guess that it's like things are just ending. That our era is over."

O'Neill weighed his words before finding the right ones. "It is over. And it's a good thing. Grannin will go through the 'Gate and lead the team. They'll encounter bad guys and get shot at and find all kinds of alien doohickeys to send back to you and your peeps at R & D. Meanwhile, you'll get ahold of those doohickeys and futz with them and make them work, and I will sit in my office and annoy all kinds of Senators and we will go home each evening to our son and live our lives. There's nothing wrong with that. "

"I know." She nodded, swaying away from him before leaning in closer. "And I'm glad."

There was a 'but' there somewhere, so Jack helped her along by providing one for her. "But—"

"But don't they all just seem kind of young?"

"And we're back to that." Jack's brows dipped. "Okay—young in what way?"

She sighed. "I don't know. I mean, we're trusting our planet—our very existence-to these people. And they just all seem so—I don't know. " She looked sideways up at him in that way she had; the way that always managed to turn his insides to mush. "Not inexperienced, but without experience. Does that make sense?"

He considered that carefully before answering. He thought about responding in the way that would earn him the most good-husband points, but in the end, he went with honesty. "Not really."

Sam sighed deeply again. This one seemed meaningful. "Like they have the experience to deal with all the new experiences that they will have, but they really don't have the experience necessary to understand it all."

Jack frowned. "Is this another wormhole-in-an-apple-in-a-donut kind of explanation?"

"A what?"

His eyes narrowed as he looked at her. "Where you know exactly what you mean, and you explain it in a way that you think that I am going to get what you mean, and you think that I'm getting what you mean, but in the end it's going to take a donut and an apple and an act of Congress to get me to understand it?"

She bit her lip to keep from grinning. "Yeah. I guess so."

"Well, then, General Carter, don't bother. I'm trying to kick the donut habit, I've already had my apple for the day, and as for Congress-well-let's not go there. You can't explain those nimrods to me."

Her dimples made an appearance. "I guess I just worry."

"I know. It's hard to give command over to someone else." Jack turned and leaned against the wall of the 'Gateroom, his body providing a barrier of sorts to the rest of the room. "And yeah—they seem lacking in something—but then, they can't be expected to know what we know, right? But they've all experienced 'Gate travel, they've been off-world, and they've all been trained by the best people around. They know what they need to know."

"I understand that, logically."

"Then what's the problem?"

She struggled for a few minutes to get it out. "It's our team, Jack."

Ah. So that was it. O'Neill held back a smile. "So, you're afraid that they're going to screw up our legacy?"

"Maybe." Sam shrugged. It took her several long breaths before she went on. "And maybe I'm worried that they're going to be better at it than we were."

"Impossible." His response had been too immediate. He took a breath and shook his head. "At least, improbable."

Her golden hair caught the light as she looked up at him. "We did our share of screwing up, you know."

"Yes, we did."

"I mean, we really made some huge mistakes. Letting Linnea loose, getting caught in that time loop, killing that planet's sun, going back in time—"

He stopped her by reaching out and touching her hand with his own. "And yet, we still managed to save the world a few times."

The pads of her fingers brushed against his. Deliberately. "We did that, too."

"So, they really can't do much better than we did, can they?"

"I guess not." She looked resigned more than in full agreement.

"And hey—look at it this way. Grannin has a fully trained team with excellent resumes. I didn't have that same privilege. I had Daniel."

"You mean that brilliant linguist and archaeologist who saved your life on multiple occasions?"

"Whatever. And I had this stoic alien guy."

"Who gave us invaluable information about the enemy, was unbelievably loyal and who also saved your life multiple times."

"Oh yeah? Well, what about that eager beaver Captain-doctor wunderkind who constantly bored me to death with her technological babble?"

"What about her?"

Jack's eyes narrowed. "I had to deal with her."

"And?"

"And she was pretty damned young."

Sam grinned, her fingers tightening around his and giving a slight tug. "Was?"

O'Neill shot wisdom to the wind and rolled his eyes. "You know what I mean."

Angling to see around his shoulder, Sam made another perusal of the 'Gateroom and the people filling it. After a moment, she straightened up. "Yeah, Jack. I know what you mean."

"So, it's all good, right?"

Still tangled with his, her hand stilled—her body tightening for the briefest beats. He'd always been amazed by that about her—how she could take in and process information and then come to a decision in the space of a few seconds. It used to drive him crazy, but he'd grown to love watching the process. It was when his wife was in her element, and most comfortable in her own skin. That all by itself was really kind of sexy.

Sam's smile was slow, but brilliant. "I think yeah. It's all good."

"So, we can go back to the hotel and not worry about young or not young or experienced or not experienced anymore."

"Well, I wouldn't say not worry at all. I'd just say not worry as much."

"Sam." He could use a 'General' tone, too. And he had a few most stars than she did, so his tone mattered just that much more.

She tilted her head in a grudging nod. "Okay—I'll try not to worry about it."

"Good." Jack glanced towards the new SG-1, and was surprised to find Grannin looking back towards him. For a long time, the two men simply looked at each other, and then Grannin's head rose, his body lifting to its full height—the closest thing to a salute possible under the circumstances, and despite himself, Jack returned the gesture. Something was transmitted there—a passing of some understanding. Approval of past and future, or simply a mark of respect—Jack didn't know. But just like that, the moment had passed. Turning back towards his wife, he whispered, "It's going to be fine. They're going to be fine."

She'd seen it, understood it. "Yeah. I know."

"Then we can go, right?"

"I think there's supposed to be a speech."

He ran his thumb along the sensitive skin of her wrist and felt her shudder a bit. "So, we can go, right?"

Sam straightened, answering in mocking obeisance. "Yes, sir."

Grinning, Jack placed his hand at the small of her back, as he gently shoved her towards the door. "Oh, if only I could get you to say that in bed."