The first year they spend Christmas together, just the two of them, it’s completely accidental, and kind of cliche, because they’re stranded on an alien planet.
“If you didn’t want to go to Walter’s Christmas party, you could’ve just told him no, Carter.” Jack says.
“Hey,” she replies with a teasing smile. “You go right ahead, sir. The gate’s three klicks that way."
In fact, there’s absolutely nothing between them and the gate. There’s nothing wrong with the DHD, or their GDOs. There’s nothing to prevent them from heading home, back to Colorado Springs and Sergeant Harriman’s Christmas Eve Potluck for SGC Personnel With No Better Options.
But there is something between them and the rest of their team, namely, a broken bridge and an 8,000 foot deep canyon.
With Jack at point, SG-1 had been in the midst of crossing a rickety old bridge from one edge of a canyon to another, a roaring river so far below that they couldn’t actually hear it roar. P5Y-521 had long ago been abandoned by the Goa’uld, and the kindly but simple people who lived there had no use for the Stargate and pretty much never walked the path or crossed the bridge between the town and the gate, even though it's only about 10 kilometers away. Jack had noted the poor condition of the bridge the first time they crossed it. He’d advised his team, as they prepared to cross it on their return journey, to be alert.
Perhaps that’s why Daniel had taken the opportunity to stop and tighten the tie on his boot. Teal’c, who was bringing up the rear, had hung back with him. Jack was already more than halfway across, with Sam close behind, when he heard one of the ropes snap and felt the bridge sag beneath him and sway forward. “Captain, move!” he’d shouted to Sam as he threw himself at the other edge of the cliff. She’d scrambled behind him, and by some Christmas miracle, they’d both made it. But the bridge had not.
Daniel and Teal’c had doubled back to the village and been advised that there is another bridge about a day’s walk to the west that crosses the canyon and connects the village to their winter hunting grounds, and is therefore very well-maintained. Jack and Sam had walked back to the gate and reported their situation to the SGC. The canyon is too deep and the sandstone is too soft, which is why the canyon got so deep in the first place, for them to try rig up anything temporary to get the rest of SG-1 across, so it’s decided that they will walk to the west bridge.
It's absolutely unlikely, bordering on impossible, that Daniel and Teal’c will run into trouble on their journey over the next two days, and in fact much more likely that Jack’s knees will give out with that much walking. Somehow he’s always fine when he’s running for his life, but the goddamn endless walking gets him every time. Nonetheless, they leave no one behind. So here they are, on Christmas Eve, two identical campfires 30 yards and 8,000 feet apart from each other. They’re maintaining radio contact but there’s really not a lot to say, just a good night’s sleep to get before they start their trekking in the morning.
“I was supposed to have Christmas off this year,” Jack grouses, pacing back and forth. “I had plans.” Plans that involved sitting alone on his couch with a six-pack of beer. ’Tis the season for sulking, right? But he’d been looking forward to that beer.
“Better plans than Walter’s party, sir?” She smiles up at him from where she’s sitting on a rock by their fire and he’s caught off guard by the brightness in her eyes.
He shrugs. Beer alone on the couch seems like a much better plan to him, though he supposes it’s all a matter of perspective.
“I’ve got something that might make you feel better,” she says. She reaches into the inside pocket of her tak vest and pulls out a ziplock bag with four big, fat pieces of red licorice.
“Uh huh.” She seems pleased with herself. “I thought that, just in case something happened, it would be nice to have something special."
“Red vines are something special?"
She frowns up at him, and he tries not to notice what a cute little pout she has. “They’re tasty and lightweight and easy to pack. Plus, they’re festive."
“Because they’re red?"
“Yeah. Red with little swirls.” He sees it, actually, the red twist like a candy cane that won’t snap and shatter like an actual candy cane would. It’s so like her, at least as far as he’s gotten to know her - just the right combination of kind of weird and spot on.
“Look,” she says, retracting the arm that had been holding out the ziplock bag. “I can easily eat all four of these myself. So if you’re not interested, so much the better for me."
“I didn’t say I wasn’t interested.” He sits down next to her and she beams at him again, opens the bag and hands him a piece. The candy is chewy and sweet and tastes stale in the way red vines kind of always taste stale. It’s not bad, really. It’s kind of nice to eat something other than an MRE or a PowerBar.
Sam inelegantly tears off another bite of red vine with her teeth and leans back to look up at the sky. “I wonder if I’ll ever get used to seeing the galaxy from a different perspective,” she muses. “I know the night sky from Earth so well. Every time I look up at night on another planet, I have this split second of feeling completely disoriented before I remember that it’s supposed to be different."
“I know what you mean,” he says. He leans back and looks up too, chewing thoughtfully on his red vine.
“How long have you had the telescope on your roof?” she asks.
“Well,” he says, “I’ve only had the house for about a year and a half."
“Right,” she says quickly. Because prior to that, he lived in a different house with his wife and son. Sam seems sorry to have reminded him of that, as if he ever, for even a moment, could forget. She holds out a second red vine, which he accepts.
“I’ve had the telescope for a long time though,” he says. “Always kept it on the back porch or something. This is the first time I’ve had such a great spot for it."
“It is a great spot,” she agrees.
“How about you?"
“How about me what?"
“Have you ever had a telescope?"
“Oh,” she says. “No, I never had one. I did map out the constellations with glow-in-the-dark stars once on my bedroom ceiling.” She smiles at the memory. “I was very serious about making it as accurate as possible.” Jack doesn’t doubt that. "We moved so much that it was kind of a futile endeavor. But when we lived in San Diego when I was in high school, my dad used to take me to the observatory. You couldn’t see much with their telescope, all the light pollution, you know? But they had these gigantic maps of the stars and I just… I wanted that. I wanted to know them."
Jack can just imagine a teenaged Sam Carter, captivated by burning balls of gas hundreds and thousands and millions of light years away.
“I wanted to be an astronaut, actually,” she says.
“Yeah. That’s why I joined the Air Force. That’s the track I was on before I was recruited for Project Giza."
“Oh,” he says. He’s never really thought about her apart from the Stargate program. She seems so integral to the program, and it to her, that it’s strange to think she once had other ambitions.
She must think so too. “It’s funny to imagine how differently my life could’ve turned out,” she says with a chuckle, taking another bite of her red vine and chewing it slowly.
“Bet you never imagined you’d be visiting those stars you once stared at,” he says.
“Bet you didn’t either,” she replies, and he nods. “Honestly,” she continues, “every single day we do something I never could’ve imagined. Whenever I stop and think about it, really take stock of it all, it’s just…” she trails off, her eyes sparkling like the stars above.
“Yeah,” he agrees quietly.
“See that one there?” She points straight up above them. “To the left of that cluster?"
“I think that’s Sirius."
“The dog star,” he says. “It’s just as bright from here as it is from Earth."
“Well, it’s a binary star,” she says, which he knows. “We’re on the other side of it here, and a little bit closer, only by a couple hundred light years."
They sit in silence for a while, finishing their red vines and looking for familiar stars in their alien configurations.
“I’m sorry about your Christmas plans, sir,” she says with a sincerity of which his six-pack of beer is utterly unworthy.
“Nah,” he says. “I’ve had worse Christmases."
She nods and tucks the now-empty ziplock bag back into her tak vest. “All things considered,” she says, “this is really not so bad."
He has to agree with her there. "Merry Christmas, Carter," he says.
She grins at him briefly and then looks back up at the sky. "Merry Christmas, sir."