(Author's Note: This story is set during Season 8, between Avatar and Affinity. It is based off events in The Drift, by Diana Dru Botsford, and while it's my hope that the story stands somewhat on it's own, I would strongly encourage you to read novel itself, which is, imho, one of the the best written, most in-character, almost-like-watching-an-episode-of- SG-1 books currently out there-especially if you've ever pondered what in the world was going on with Jack in Season 8! My thanks, as always, to mara-anni for her insight and support...and her ellipsis. I'd also like to thank Diana Dru Botsford for allowing me to spring-board off her work and inspiring me to be just a little bit better.)
A "Lost Chapter"
Diana Dru Botsford's
If only the F-302 really needed her full attention to fly it. Then she could fiddle around with gauges and controls and instruments and her mind wouldn't keep wandering back to P3Y-702 or Kunlun or Elysium Pedion or whatever the hell the planet was called. She wouldn't have to think about how she'd once again had to watch the general step forward to sacrifice his life without being able to do a damn thing to stop him. And she'd be able to ignore the not-quite-faded stricture in her chest from believing that their time—his time—had finally and irrevocably run out.
There'd been a few moments, back at the SGC, before they'd been hustled up to the surface and whisked off to Peterson, when she thought she wouldn't be able to catch her breath. She'd had to dash off to the bathroom and splash water on her face, praying that her heart rate would soon return to something nearing normal. She wanted to lay it to the events of the past twenty-four hours…to the mysterious happenings of their shared coma-dream…to the presence of Skaara…and to the pressure of retrieving the crystal from P3Y-702 and stopping the Ancient terra-forming device in Antarctica from ripping the Earth apart. But she knew better than that. Crazy as it was, the frenzy of the past few hours had been pretty much the norm for the past seven years of her life. The fate of the Earth hanging in the balance had never made her hyperventilate before. Today was no exception.
But the general almost dying…again. That was. And even though this wasn't the first time she'd had to stand helplessly by while he stepped toward certain death, it was the first time in a while. And she'd forgotten how that felt. Forgotten what it was like to have every breath sucked out of her body and her gut twisted into a Gorgon knot. Forgotten feeling panic, dense as a stone, lodged in her throat. Forgotten the sensation of swaying on the edge of a yawning chasm of a future in which there was no Jack O'Neill on the face of the Earth…or any other planet in the universe.
Forgotten what it was like to wonder how she could ever exist if he didn't.
And that, right there, was exactly what she did not want to be thinking about. Did not even want to have running through her mind right now or ever. Because she shouldn't even be thinking things like that. Those kinds of thoughts were supposed to be in the past, carefully filed away under "unattainable" and "left in the room". Or, more likely, tossed in the round file stamped "doesn't feel that way about you any more".
She double-checked her console because she needed something to do. Something to rein in those thoughts that were beginning to spin dangerously out of control. The console said everything was functioning within normal parameters. Of course.
A burst of static in her ear told her Daniel had switched on his com. He'd already grilled her once about what had happened at the temple while he had been waiting for them at the gate. She'd told him what she'd seen: the two men—General O'Neill and Huang—frozen in place, their hands grasping the much-needed crystal. Neither moving. Neither, it had seemed, even breathing. Five minutes. Ten. She'd called to them…tried to grab the general's arm. But they might as well have been stone. And then—whether through her own efforts or whatever it was that had held them enthrall finally letting them go—they'd come out of it. Only instead of the general being the one to plunge his hand into the device, it was Huang, who they then watched shimmer down to his quantum particles and dissolve into thin air.
It had been horrible and beautiful at the same time.
And if it hadn't been for whatever happened in those ten frozen minutes, it might very well have been the general's subatomic particles drifting across P3Y-702.
What exactly had happened in those ten minutes—why Huang chose, in the end, to be the one who stayed—she didn't know, despite Daniel asking her a half-dozen different ways. She may have snapped at him a bit the last time, and after that he'd fallen silent. She thought, perhaps, he'd even drifted off to sleep.
"Hey, Sam…?" His voice came thin and tinny through the radio.
"I already told you, Daniel." She cut him off, preemptively. "I have no idea why Huang did it. Like I said, there wasn't exactly a whole lot of time to stand around and ask questions."
She could hear the frustration in his voice. "I know that. I just wish I'd been there. Maybe I could have…."
"There wasn't anything you could have done, Daniel." For whatever reason, both men had been okay with the outcome. And not that she was happy anyone had died, but if someone had to make the sacrifice, at least, this time, it wasn't the general.
"You're probably right." He sighed with resignation. She could also almost hear the wheels turning in his head. No wonder General O'Neill had refused to let him ride second seat in his own F-302. Sometimes Daniel just didn't know when to let something go.
Like now. "It had to have been pretty strange, though...the way they just froze. I wonder if it was some type of stasis."
Stasis. The word itself almost made her physically ill. For a moment she was back in the temple, unable to tear her eyes away from an image that had already been burned into her memory months ago when the same vacant eyes had looked past her, unseeing, from that Ancient chamber in Antarctica. There'd been no dormata this time, but the general's eyes had been just as empty and his body just as immobile. He'd been nothing but an inanimate statue and as oblivious to her as if she had been non-existent.
Which, if she wanted to be truthful with herself, she was. To him. At least in that way.
And only becoming more so, with each passing day. Ever since his promotion and his subtle but unmistakable distancing of himself from her and the rest of SG-1, the parts of their lives which overlapped were getting smaller by the day. It wasn't long before he would become exactly what she'd seen in that temple: a painting in the background of her life.
On some level, she'd known this all along. But the stark, bitter reality of it staring her in the face…or, more accurately, she supposed, staring past her into oblivion…was shattering.
"Sam?" Daniel was still talking to her. She hadn't heard a word of it.
"Sorry…what?" The words came out thickly, making their way around the lump that had lodged in her throat. Maybe he wouldn't notice.
"I was saying how with everything that's happened on this trip, it sort of feels like old times…are you okay?"
So maybe he had noticed. She cleared her throat.
"Yeah. Of course. Why?"
"No reason…you just…never mind."
"I'm fine, Daniel. Really."
Not really. In fact, she was about as far from fine as she could get.
The simple truth was that she could no more imagine her life without Jack O'Neill in it than she could not breathing.
God! What an idiot she'd been! All this time, convincing herself she could move on. Thinking that with Pete, at least, she'd be able to put any notion that there'd once been something with—she made herself think his name, even if she couldn't say it out-loud—Jack—behind her. As if pretending she was having a normal life would actually make it so.
Only she hadn't actually broken that tie. Not really. In spite of Pete…in spite of everything…she had never actually let Jack go.
It had been easy enough not to. All those years together out in the field—just like today. Sure, they might not have his exclusive attention anymore, but SG-1 still interacted with him almost daily; and even if she couldn't be anything more than his 2IC or the leader of SG-1, then that, in itself, had been at least something. She had, without realizing it, taken comfort in the certainty of that contact. Depended on it, even. Almost to the point of being…content.
And therein lay the problem. If she understood nothing else about what had happened on P3Y-702 in those ten silent minutes, she knew that it was a harbinger of her future. Nothing stayed the same forever. And whether Jack had died sticking his hand in some alien device or not, the result was ultimately going to be the same.
The day would come when he would be out of her life.
Just like she was already out of his.
Something ached in her chest and would not stop.
It was almost like anticipating a death.
Or reliving one.
I'd rather die than lose Carter.
She gave an involuntary glance toward her starboard wing.
That had been a long time ago. And even if it had been true then, nothing she had seen indicated that it was true now.
There had been…a moment. She remembered now. In the midst of all the commotion on P3Y-702, she hadn't given it a second thought, aside from distractedly noticing the almost forgotten flutter in her stomach at the time. And maybe it was just her imagination willing something there that hadn't been.
But no…she was quite sure. It was a genuine memory…not a wish. Just that one split-second, before he had stepped toward the crystal, when Jack had finally looked at her—really looked at her—and smiled.
It wasn't the forced, guarded general's smile which had become his stock in trade these past several months. It was a true Jack O'Neill smile—the kind he used to shoot her way once upon a time. Before.
Then it had vanished as spontaneously as it had come—a strange, almost surprised look of loss and sadness taking its place. And just for a second, she was back on a half-built ha'tak vessel looking through a force-shield into eyes that needed no words to convey what the man behind them felt.
Which made her wonder.
But no. She was undoubtedly reading far too much into it. The general had always stared down death with a smirk on his face. She'd misinterpreted what she'd seen. Probably. And if there was any regret in his eyes—well, hadn't he said it himself all those years ago in Antarctica? He regretted dying. Even if he had seemed inordinately stubborn, this time, in insisting that he had to be the one who remained behind.
Only…what if she was wrong—or right? Everything she'd been so certain about before seemed suddenly up-ended. It was slim evidence, to be sure. And hardly unbiased. It was entirely possible she'd seen exactly what she'd wanted to see. But it called into question the entire premise that she'd built her life without Jack around. If the underlying hypothesis of that life turned out to be false….
The truth was, she really didn't know now what his feelings toward her were. Not any more. She'd given up trying to talk to him about it. Each time she'd broached the topic he'd deftly dodged it. The message was fairly clear.
Or so she'd thought. It seemed silly to now suddenly be plagued with doubt based on one unguarded look that hadn't even lasted a heartbeat, but there it was.
She simply did not know.
Maybe not knowing was for the best. At least for now. Maybe some questions were better off not asked…or answered. Ignorance might very well be bliss, and for the time being she should be content to take whatever part of him she could get—even if it was just the back of his tousled, silvering head as he hurried off to his next appointment. Maybe having him as a painting in the backdrop of her life was better than not having him there at all.
That day would probably come soon enough.
Assuming, of course, they all lived that long. The clock was still ticking, after all.
Daniel, she realized, had lapsed back into silence, either asleep or wrapped up with his own thoughts as she was with hers. She wondered if Jack would ever tell him what had happened between himself and Huang on P3Y-702. Probably not. As with most things these days, the general didn't seem inclined to let anyone know what was really going on behind those increasingly wary eyes.
But Daniel would persist anyway—for a while, at least. In his book, the only bad question was the one never asked. If only she were that fearless. How could it be that saving the world seemed easy compared to asking Jack O'Neill if he still had any feelings for her? And how could walking away, without knowing for sure, make saving the world seem meaningless?
A knot of resolve tightened in her gut. Maybe it was time to take a page out of Daniel's book.
She would do it.
She would ask Jack, once and for all.
Not now. Not yet. For the moment it was still better to live with the status quo than roll the dice and risk losing it all. But when the time came, just as it very nearly had today—when her carefully balanced life was in danger of tipping yet again—she wouldn't let him go without knowing for sure. Before he walked out of her life completely, she would find the courage to ask him, one last time. To know, beyond any doubt, if what she thought she'd seen in that smile had meant anything at all.
And if it didn't….
Well. She'd deal with that when it happened. One crisis at a time. Until then, she'd just keep treading water, and act like it was business as usual. Because really, it was.
The navigational computer indicated it was time to begin their descent. ETA at Marble Point was ten minutes. Time to alert the general, rouse Daniel and get back to work saving the planet. They might just pull this off after all.