Three men and one woman sat around the campfire in the glow of the sun's fading light. Guilt was plainly written on the faces of the men, each having their own reason. However, the woman's face was not readable since her cap had been pulled low over her eyes.
It was bad. Really, really bad. In his defense, Daniel hadn't known when he had started talking about it.
All these years she had been kidding herself. There was them and then there was her. She wasn't really one of them. One of the guys. One of the team. What she had thought was a deep connection to her teammates had been nothing more than superficial.
The harshest sting was that of the Colonel. He had told Teal'c, but not her. It was something that the three of them had shared. But not her.
Talk about thinking there had been a deep connection...
Wallowing in an amazing amount of self-pity, Sam stood up pulling her cap even lower, unable to see the gaze of her teammates on her. Suddenly she felt completely alone. At the moment there was only one other person on the planet who she felt could empathize. And right now she craved acceptance.
Sam heard her name again as she turned away, but ignored it. She walked over towards the cliff's edge where Jonas sat, trying to squeeze out the last rays of the sun as he wrote in his notebook. One thing he hadn't forgotten from his time on SG-1 was the Colonel's rule about wasting flashlight batteries for writing notes.
Sam smiled slightly as the dim light caught the "2" on his SGC patch. He really did seem happy with his new team. She had been worried about him once she knew he was effectively being kicked off of SG-1; however, the near fistfight that happened between most of the other team leaders in trying to decide who would get Jonas went a long way to boost his self-confidence. In the end Major Griff had won out and boasted about "his alien" every chance he got.
"Sam," Jonas smiled and put his notebook down.
"Don't let me interrupt you," she said as she sat down next to him.
"Don't worry about it. I really couldn't see anymore. Actually I was just letting my mind wander."
Sam smiled. "So how's Griff treating you?"
Jonas grinned. "Great! You know," he said conspiratorially, "he actually threatened the Colonel when he told him to bring me back safely."
Sam smirked. For all their grousing, the military team leaders were very possessive of their "geeks," seeing as said "geeks" had a tendency to save the team's collective ass on a regular basis.
"So, have you come to drag me back to camp?"
"Uh, no. Let's just stay out here a while."
Jonas gave her an odd look. "Okay."
Back around the fire, the mood was somber.
"Jack, why the hell didn't you tell her?" Daniel was dumbfounded.
"That's it? You don't know?" Daniel stared at him incredulously. "Good one, Jack."
Jack glared back at him. "Hey! You could have dropped by and visited her, you know!"
"She didn't need me in that way. And besides, that's not the point! You should have told her that you saw me. It's what a friend would have done. You are her friend, aren't you Jack?"
"Damn it, Daniel!" Jack lowered his voice. "You know that because of our situation..."
"This isn't about that!"
Another glare. But Daniel had found his soapbox and was not about to get off, especially considering he felt blindsided by the whole situation.
"So you two knew that I was in fact on another plain of existence. Content in your knowledge that I wasn't actually dead. All the while Sam thought...well, she probably didn't know what to think! God, Jack. You really are a bastard!"
"Leave Teal'c out of this!"
Jack ran a hand through his hair.
"So this past year, she really had no one, did she?" Daniel saw Jack cringe, but he didn't care. Suddenly a movement in the distance caught his eye. He fixed his attention on it.
"Or maybe she did."
Jack turned around in time to see Carter playfully nudge Jonas with her shoulder. His head spun back around, eyes piercing the depths of the fire.
Jack let Daniel's words wash over him. Had he really pushed the thought of "them" so far away that he couldn't even relate to her as a person? She had needed someone to talk to. Jonas was someone.
The more he thought about it, the more he realized Daniel was right. And he hated when Daniel was right. He pulled himself up and walked over to the pair on the cliff.
"Jonas, Daniel wants to talk to you." It was more of an order than anything else.
Sam started to stand also.
She tensed, but sat back down.
He sat next to her, not really having any plan of what to say. He waited until he could no longer hear Jonas' retreating footsteps, hoping something would come to him.
"I didn't know how to tell you," he said finally, staring into the distance.
Sam shook her head. "Yeah, well, there's a lot of stuff..." she stopped and corrected herself. "I shouldn't have been surprised, Sir."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Sir. "You know what? As of right now we are completely off the record."
"You son of a bitch!"
Okay. Maybe the whole off the record thing hadn't been such a good idea.
"God. There were months...I thought...God!" She put her head in her hands. "I thought you cared about me. Boy was I ever wrong! I realize now that I'm nothing more than some scientist you got stuck with as a teammate."
Was she insane?
"You know that's not true. Carter, come on," his voice was soft. "We know each other way too well for this."
Her head shot up. "You know me? God! We can't even talk to each other!"
She stood up, a move that he quickly mimicked.
He faltered, grasping at proverbial straws. "Well, when you're this close, you don't really need all that verbal stuff, right?"
"You think we're close? The distance between us is enormous!"
He grasped her arm. "Carter, quit being melodramatic," he said tersely, unable to keep the fear out of his voice.
She swept her free hand over the cliff. "We're standing on opposite sides of a huge fucking ravine!!"
Sam shook him off and marched to their camp. She roughly grabbed her pack and threw herself into the tent.
Stunned, all Jack could do was sit back down.
The three men by the campfire didn't dare speak, but instead watched the flames. After about an hour Jack still hadn't moved.
"Do you think someone should go talk to him?" whispered Jonas.
Both Teal'c's and Daniel's eyebrows rose.
"That would not be wise, Jonas Quinn."
"Uh, no. Trust me. No."
In the end, Jack had spent the night on the cliff, although when he turned up in camp the next morning, Daniel could tell that he hadn't actually slept. A few minutes later they were joined by Sam and if the worn look on her face was any indication, she also had a sleepless night.
Breakfast was eaten in silence by the five people, broken only by the occasional mumbled "thank you" for a passed cup of coffee. Everyone made quick work of their meal.
"Pack it up," came the order.
Thank God they had been scheduled to return to Earth that morning. Looking at Jonas and Teal'c, Daniel knew his sentiment was shared.
It had been less than an hour since their debrief, but Jack was a man of action. Something needed fixing, so he would fix it. That and he had gotten tired of things breaking as a result of hurling his rubber ball at the wall with as much strength as he could muster. If he had stopped to think, he would have realized he wasn't being entirely logical. But then Carter had never yelled at him before. At this point he was fueled more by panic than logic.
He ignored the knot in his stomach and strode into her lab.
"Sir," she returned briskly.
No sense beating around the bush. "I'm retiring."
Her mouth opened in shock. "Why?" she finally managed.
"Thinking about building a bridge. Keep hearing about this ravine that needs one," he responded, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Sam looked like she wanted to yell. She kept looking up at the security camera and then back to him. He hadn't expected her to do back flips, well, maybe a small part of him did, but he hadn't expected this. She looked incredibly pissed off.
She shot up from her desk, grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out into the hallway. She didn't let go until she reached the elevator, where she swiped her key card with a little more force than was necessary.
Her actions became clear to Jack once she jabbed the button in the elevator. They were leaving the mountain.
Only after they were safely outside and out of sight of the SFs on the surface did she speak.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Like I said, building a bridge. Notice I didn't say crossing the damn bridge, just starting to build one."
"Because of me? You can't do this!"
"Uh, yes I can."
"No, you can't!"
This was going nowhere. "Carter, don't you ever think about the future? I mean, we both knew that one day we'd have a life together outside of the SGC, right?"
Sam was floored by his assumption. They had never talked about it. That was the whole problem. Too many damn assumptions. She could remember countless times when she herself had dreamt about the future, but that was different...
She stopped. There shouldn't be a "but." Why did she get to make assumptions and he didn't? They were both guilty. Hell, she was even more so. She apparently had no qualms about spectacularly pointing out his fault all the while not seeing the same fault in herself. Yet he was the one who wanted to do something about it, while all she wanted to do was hide in her lab.
She was an idiot. And she didn't deserve him.
"I'm sorry," she said, regret flooding her face.
Unfortunately Jack was not a mind reader. The pain that shot through him was stronger than any weapon could have inflicted. It wasn't possible! It couldn't have been one-sided, could it? So, it was all just some elaborate fantasy that he had conjured up?
Jack stared blankly at her - the one who had just crushed his soul. He would have retreated, but his legs were refusing to move. If he thought before was bad, this new departure from logic was on a whole different level. Strange, bizarre thoughts ran through his head. One of which involved getting down on his knees and begging.
"I am so sorry," she said again.
The knife twisted. He gasped audibly.
"I should never have blamed you for our amazing inability to communicate. I guess when it comes down to it, I'm not much better at expressing my thoughts and feelings than you are." She continued, "As can be seen by my wonderful track record." She gave him a sad smile.
His mind stuttered. "What?"
"It's just hard, you know? We only ever see each other at work. It's not like I can come into your office, give you the rundown on the latest development in the naquadria research and then casually mention that I'm in love with you..."
No sooner had the words left her mouth than he grabbed her face with both hands and kissed her. A deep, desperate kiss which conveyed so much feeling that Sam felt it course through her body.
He pulled her close and let his chin rest on her shoulder, holding on for dear life.
It seemed cliché, but Sam was actually weak in the knees. Reason abandoned her. "What was...?" She trailed off.
Jack sighed. "Thought I lost you there for a minute."
It was her turn to clutch him tightly.
"God, we really do suck at this," Sam said.
They both let out small laughs.
Eventually she eased out of his hold. "You still can't go."
Jack sighed and made a decision. He knew once he told her that she'd make him wait. But he guessed that guilt over his retirement was one less thing they really needed in their relationship.
Their relationship. Jack smiled.
"Actually, the plan for my retirement was already in place. It just wasn't supposed to happen until next year. Same time as your promotion."
Sam's eyebrows rose. "Really?"
He saw the look in her eyes that she got whenever she found the solution to a really huge equation.
"Don't even say it," he said as he shook his head in mock exasperation. "I'll stay until then." He struck a wounded pose, which earned him a huge grin.
"You know," Sam said as they headed back to the base, "I think you could use the help of a well-meaning, but slightly dense, theoretical astrophysicist during that bridge construction."
Daniel's eyes narrowed as he watched two of his teammates. It had been over half a year since he had rejoined the team and over the past few months the change in Sam was, how should he put it, disconcerting.
It was like her restraints had been stripped away. Not a day went by when he didn't hear some form of sarcasm coming from her and the new-found glare she could get going was downright scary.
It was time to face facts. Sam had turned into a Jack clone. Well, that might have been going a bit too far. She was still the super genius she always was and was infinitely more patient than Jack had ever been or ever would be, but still.
Then there was the fact that Jack and Sam rarely left each other's sides while on missions. They had long discussions by the campfire about strategy, which bored Daniel so much that he swore he was going to start bringing headphones. At least Teal'c had seemed interested and often joined in the discussion. And then there was this morning. When they had stepped through the gate, Jack had actually consulted with Sam before giving his orders.
Daniel wasn't military, but he also wasn't stupid. He knew what this meant. She was being groomed for command. Sam knew it. Jack knew it. So the military shackles were coming off.
The scary part, Daniel realized as he watched Jack and Sam talking underneath a tree, was that Sam's real personality was finally shining through. Underneath it all those two were so alike it was freaky.
Daniel was happy for her, but still couldn't help feel a twinge of sadness. Command meant she would be leaving SG-1. Daniel sighed as he looked up at SG-1's CO. Jack without Sam acting as a buffer to the rest of the universe would be, well, interesting.
The thought that Jack would actually be the one to go never crossed Daniel's mind. So he had been completely stunned as Jack told them over dinner about his plans.
It took a few minutes for the shock to wear off.
"This causes a great deal of sadness, O'Neill."
"Yeah, Jack. I can't believe it. The team won't be the same." A new thought popped into his head. "Not to be totally insensitive, but who's going to lead SG-1?" Daniel cringed at the thought of some diehard commando who really didn't like scientists.
Jack smiled broadly. "Carter."
"Thank God!" Daniel shouted, which even got a laugh out of Teal'c.
"Will Jonas be coming back?" Daniel asked.
Teal'c looked at Sam with interest and perhaps a bit of hope.
"I don't know, guys. As much as I'd like it, Jonas seems pretty happy where he is."
"Too many similar SGC resources on the same team," Jack reminded them.
They sat staring at the fire. Each of them realizing that their time together was growing short.
"Well, I think this calls for a toast," said Daniel. "To surviving the past."
"To comrades. And friends," Teal'c added.
"To the future," Sam smiled.
"To massive construction projects," Jack said with a smirk.