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Stardust

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Love is now the stardust of yesterday, the music of the years gone by.

 

Three Hills, Maine
2007

Jack wakes early on the morning of May 14th. The sun is just shooting tendrils of light up over the eastern hills, and said tendrils have managed to find their way to his bedroom window, squeeze through the cracked mini-blinds, and shine directly into his eyes. It’s not a particularly pleasant waking sensation, but as he sits up and swings his legs to the floor, he reflects that by this time in his life he’s experienced enough unpleasantness to be fairly used to it; and at least this way he doesn’t have to rely on the blaring of some god-awful alarm clock.

He stands, walks to the window, and opens the blinds; letting in the full force of the sun and the warmth of the late spring morning. It isn’t entirely unpleasant, after all. The chickadees are calling to each other from the pines across the street, and the beams of the rising sun glow through the untold numbers of apple blossoms that decorate the orchard next to the pines. The air is thick with promises—of warmth, of growth, of an abundant apple harvest.

And it’s his forty-sixth birthday.

His phone rings, and he rolls his eyes when he sees the name on the caller ID. Of course she’s up as early as he is. He picks up the phone. “Morning, Janet.”

“Happy birthday!” His sister’s voice is entirely too cheerful for the early hour.

Is it?”

“It is if you let it be,” she replies pointedly. “You’re coming over tonight, right? Cassie’s counting on it. She made you a cake.”

“Oh, well, if there’s cake involved…”

Janet chuckles. “I thought that would interest you. Anyway, dinner’s at 6:00 and Daniel and Sha’re are coming. And Teal’c’s here for the weekend, so he might stop by, too.”

Jack actually feels himself smiling. “Assembled the whole team, did you?”

“Just for you. Well, I have to get ready to go, but--Jack?”

“Yes?” He can sense sisterly advice coming, and he mentally braces himself.

“Have some fun today, okay?”

He relaxes. “Okay. Sure.”

“Good.”

Janet hangs up and he stares at the phone for several seconds before setting it down. Fun isn’t a word found in his vocabulary much anymore. The farm takes up most of his time; when he isn’t tending apple trees he’s generally reading about them; and the niceties of life have gotten away from him lately.

But he turns back to the bed where Hathor, his Irish setter, is still comfortably sprawled as if she doesn’t have a care in the world. Memories flood him before he can stop them: not-so-long-ago lazy Saturday mornings, Sara curled into his side and Charlie bursting into the room with Hathor on his heels, all boundless energy and the optimism that belongs to the idyllic childhood years. He hadn’t known,back then, how fragile that precious, perfect life had been.

Now he does. Now, when it’s too late to go back.

He mentally pushes the memories away and heads to the bathroom, trying to avoid looking too closely at his reflection as he reaches for his facewash and razor. He knows he looks perpetually tired, that his tanned skin is accumulating more and more fine lines around his eyes and lips, and that his sandy brown hair is slowly-but-surely turning silver.


Not old, he thinks to himself ruefully, but certainly no longer young.

He splashes clean water on his face and goes to get dressed. The duties of farm life are calling, and they are inescapable, even on birthdays.

*

Colorado Springs

“You’re going where?” Pete’s voice hits an octave that grates on both her ears and her soul, although to be fair, the soul-grating feeling is nothing new and is certainly not limited to Pete.

Sam closes her eyes and sucks in a breath. “I’m going to Maine with Dad. We’re leaving on Saturday. He needs a change of scenery and so do I.”

Pete just stares at her. “Sam. I don’t understand.”

She doesn’t know what to say. No, you never do, and that’s why we’re here would only add fuel to the fire, and she doesn’t think she has the mental energy for a full-blown fight.

“What about your job?”

“I’ve taken a leave of absence.”

“Without asking me? Sam, you know I can’t take time off of work right now!” Pete sounds so hurt and she feels a stab of guilt. It’s always guilt with him. She’s never been enough, never present enough, either too busy or not busy enough, too distant or too clingy, and she can’t remember a time before this cursed merry-go-round of emotion that her marriage has become.

She’s sorry he’s hurt, but she can’t do this anymore.

“Yes, without asking you, because you’re not coming.” Her voice is shaking and she stops to steady it. “I’m going by myself with Dad. I’ll be gone until September.”

“Well, I think you’re being really selfish. What do you expect me to do while you’re gone?”

“I don’t know. Maybe go do some of that ‘guy stuff’ you’re always saying you never get to do anymore.”

Pete tries another tack. “Why can’t your dad go by himself? What does he need you for?”

And that does it. The implied words--What could anyone possibly need you for?--sink through her skin and into her bones, and she feels a rage rising that she hasn’t been able to feel in a long time. “My mother is dead, you asshole. My father has cancer. If he wants me to spend a few months with him in a quiet place we both used to love, then I am for goddamned sure going to go with him.”

Pete flushes red. “You can’t just--”

“I can ‘just.’ You don’t own me.” She turns on her heel and heads toward the stairs. “Goodnight, Pete.” She makes sure it sounds just like fuck you.

She shuts her bedroom door behind her, bursting into tears and resting her head against it. The guilt rises up again, choking her. This isn’t just Pete’s fault; she has been distant and preoccupied; nothing has felt real since her mother died. And she just sprung this on him with no warning.

But she doesn’t know what to do anymore. This shadowland existence isn’t sustainable, and she needs a break. From everything.

Even Pete.

She hears him tiptoe in in the middle of the night, and she holds herself as still as possible, hoping he’ll think she’s asleep. But he’s a cop and he can spot bullshit a mile away, and so he sits next to her on the bed and starts talking. “Look, Sam, I’m sorry. Okay? I know it’s been tough for you.”

She sighs and opens her eyes. Tough? It’s been hell. But she doesn’t say it out loud.

“I just don’t think now is a good time for you to take off, you know? Maybe just cut back on your work hours a bit. We’ve been talking about you doing that anyway. We could take a big trip next summer. Like Paris! Haven’t you always wanted to see the Eiffel Tower in person?”

He’s using that wheedling ‘I’m-reasoning-with-a-toddler’ voice that she loathes, and she wants to yell at him but she’s too tired. So she sits up and says, “I’m going with my dad on Saturday, and I don’t want to talk about this anymore. For once in your life, please, please do me the courtesy of backing off.”

Pete stares at her, his jaw clenched. “I don’t even know you anymore,” he says, and walks out.

Sam watches him leave. “You never knew me,” she whispers as the door slams behind him.

On Saturday morning she stands in her doorway uncertainly, the handle of a rolling suitcase in one hand and a toiletry bag in the other. She’s packing light. She wants to take as little of this life with her as possible.

Pete stands at the counter, sipping his coffee and pointedly ignoring her. It’s been like this for the last three days, and it’s become so petty that if she wasn’t on the verge of tears she would laugh. “I’ll call you when we get there,” she says.

He fixes her with a long look, and turns away without responding.

So that’s that. She walks to her car and doesn’t look back. The road east is bright with possibility, and for the first time in years, Sam allows herself to imagine what might be around the bend.

*

Jack pulls into Janet’s driveway at 6:00 sharp, because he is nothing if not punctual, and reflects quickly over the day to think of anything he might have done that could conceivably be called “fun.” Even though Janet is a full seventeen years younger than him, she’s been hovering like a mother hen ever since his life had spiraled into the abyss two years ago. He honestly doesn’t know if he’d still be alive without her.

But heaven help him if he has to go in there and tell her that he spent the entire day pruning apple trees. After a few moments’ consideration, he decides to tell her that this evening is his fun for the day. Although, honking his car horn at Harry Maybourne just as Harry happened to walk in front of him at Hammond’s Market was pretty close to fun. However, Janet’s not likely to approve of that kind of petty behavior, so he thinks he’ll keep that little tidbit to himself.

Just as he’s getting out of his car, Daniel and Sha’re pull up. He smiles, because now he has a buffer between himself and Janet; and also because he’s fonder of them than he is of any other humans besides Janet and Cassie. Daniel had been one of Janet’s best friends, and during his high school years he’d spent more time at Jack’s house with Janet than at his own. And after the accident Daniel and Sha’re had been as instrumental in bringing him back from the brink of despair as Janet had been. As far as Jack is concerned, they are family.

“Hi, Jack,” greets Daniel, as he gets out of the car and stretches. He must have spent the whole day poring over those exhaustingly meticulous archeology notes of his, Jack thinks with a smirk. “Hey, Danny-boy,” he replies jovially, ruffling Daniel’s hair as if he were a child.

Daniel narrows his eyes. “You’re such an ass,” he says mildly, pushing his hair out of his face.

Sha’re rolls her eyes at both of them and then smiles at Jack. “Happy birthday, Jack.”

She hugs him and he kisses her cheek. “Thanks, honey.” He steps back and walks into the house quickly, because he feels emotional all of a sudden, and Sha’re is one of those uncanny people who can look at a person’s face and see into their soul.

He’s not interested in putting his soul on display.

*

“Uncle Jack, did you know the trailer across from your house got rented out?” Cassie asks him just as he is about to take a bite of chocolate cake.

He’s not sure he heard correctly. “What?”

“I heard Chief Siler and Sheriff Harriman talking about it at Hammond’s today. The new tenants are moving in at the end of the week.”

“Well, that’s just great,” Jack sets down his fork with a clatter.

“I’m sorry, Jack,” Janet says, putting a hand on top of his. “Maybe they’ll be nice people this time.”

“Oh, yes, because that’s the way my luck always goes,” he replies bitterly. “Besides, when have we ever gotten a nice tenant for that house? Everyone that’s ever lived there has trashed the yard and not just stolen apples, because that’s not bad enough, but actually damaged my trees. God, I hate people.”

“Sorry, Uncle Jack,” Cassie says repentantly. “I thought you’d be happy to have some company next door.”
He manages a smile in her direction. “It’s not your fault.” He knows he’s being childish, but it’s just one more thing in a long line of things and he feels too tired to deal with any of it.

He picks up his fork again and is just about to take a bite when the front door opens and slams shut, and Teal’c walks in. “Hey guys! Happy birthday, Jack! Did you hear who’s moving into the trailer across from your house?”

Jack drops his fork. “That’s it, I give up.” He pushes back from the table dramatically. “No, T. Who, pray tell, is moving into the trailer across from my house?”

“Sam Carter and her dad!” Teal’c’s smile splits his face in two and both Daniel and Janet gasp.

“I haven’t heard from Sam in so long,” Janet says wistfully as she begins cutting a piece of cake for Teal’c. “Have you, Daniel?”

“No, not in ages. I hope she’s doing okay.” He turns to Sha’re. “She was one of my best friends in high school. You’ll love her.”

“Last I heard, she’d gotten her doctorate in theoretical astrophysics and was working at Stargate Labs in Colorado Springs,” Janet muses. “I think maybe she got married, too?”

“Oh, great, so she did become a scientist,” Jack mutters.

“I think you’re just jealous because she’s smarter than you are,” Daniel says, looking sideways at Teal’c, who snickers conspiratorially.

Jack refuses to even dignify that with a response.

Teal’c sits down, pulls the plate of cake toward himself and takes an enormous bite. Jack looks from one beaming face to another, and while he’s glad that they’re happy, he can’t bring himself to feel anything. Not that that’s anything new for him, but the thought of the Carters returning to town is stirring up a host of old memories, memories of those happier days that will never return. He doesn’t want to think about it. He eats the rest of his cake in silence.

Janet finds him later, alone on her deck, staring unseeingly into the woods of her back yard. He startles when she touches his arm.

“Sorry,” she says. She leans against the railing, facing him. “You all right?”

He doesn’t know what to say, because he is decidedly not all right, but right now there aren’t words for what he’s feeling. Mostly he just hates milestones like birthdays and he wants the day to be over.

Janet takes his hand and squeezes it. After a few moments of silence, she says, “Are you really upset about Hammond renting out the trailer?”

“Not so much now, I guess.” He sighs. “You must be thrilled that Sam’s coming back.”

“I am.” Janet can’t contain the smile that lights up her whole face. “I wish we hadn’t lost touch. We used to have such good times, all of us. I miss those days.”

Jack does too, more than he can say. Life was simpler then, with the kind of magic that comes only with being young and idealistic and in love. He remembers being a newlywed, and Sara redecorating the old farmhouse until it looked like something out of a magazine. The long quiet evenings, just the two of them, and more often the evenings that Janet and Sam and Daniel and Teal’c descended on his house, piling on the couches, eating his food and shrieking with laughter. Sara hadn’t been as fond of that, but the house had always felt too big and empty to Jack, and he loved that Janet and her friends felt at home there. He made a good show of acting put out and annoyed, but those kids had always known he was full of shit and played along with all the characteristic smartassery of teenage-hood.

And then, one by one, those kids grew up and went away to college: Janet to medical school, Sam to an astrophysics program, Daniel to Egypt to study anthropology, and Teal’c on a football scholarship. And the house was empty again. And then Charlie had been born, and Janet came back, and so did Daniel, and life had seemed almost perfect.

Until one day, it was all gone.

He realizes Janet is watching him, and that he hasn’t responded. This is why he tries not to think of the past, because it always threatens to pull him under and drown him. He squeezes Janet’s hand. “I’m afraid to go backwards,” he confesses, and he looks away quickly, trying to stem the tide of emotion.

Janet wraps her arms around his waist and he rests his chin on top of her head. “We won’t go backwards,” she says firmly. “I won’t let it happen. Today’s a fresh start, Jack. Things are changing; I can feel it. And at least,” she adds with a chuckle, “you won’t have to worry about your apple trees being destroyed.”

He feels the despair receding and a tiny bubble of hope rising to the surface. He allows himself a smile. “There is that.”