Colonel Jack O'Neill sat on the low bench outside the temple his scientists, Daniel Jackson and Major Samantha Carter, were exploring. He looked around him. The city was mustard colored as far as the eye could see. Tan buildings, tan roadways, at this time of day as the sun was going down, a golden sky. The only spots of color were in the distance and were, presumably, clothing hung out on lines to dry. Across from him, Teal'c stood, staff weapon in hand, at near parade rest. His eyes were only half open, but Jack knew the big man could spring into action faster than Jack could even get the request out of his mouth if it came to it.
"How're you guys doing in there?" Jack called out, craning his neck a little so he could see in through the glassless window. It was darker inside the building than it was out of it so it was difficult to make out the shapes of his teammates.
There was a long moment of hesitation and Jack realized that he still hadn't been entirely forgiven for his actions after he'd returned from Edora. He'd only done what he had to do, but the undercover mission had fractured the easy camaraderie that the team had previously shared.
Eventually, Daniel's voice filtered out of the temple. "We're going to be a while longer." No whining, no snark, just a flat out answer. Yes, things were definitely still out of sorts.
"Why?" Jack was hoping the question would prompt Carter to answer him, but no dice. It seemed she was the most upset of them all, and he had a feeling it had to do with that little barb he'd thrown at her about not being himself since he met her. He'd meant it, sort of, but not in the way she obviously thought.
Daniel's voice again, "Because I think I see the symbol of Sokar in here."
That perked Jack up. They'd had a run in with the sonuvabitch many months previous in Netu when they'd gone to rescue Carter's dad after a Tok'ra mission gone bad. "You think you see it?"
"It's definitely his symbol. I just don't know why it's here."
Jack harumphed. He didn't care why it was there, just that it was. The last thing they needed was another run in with someone who did Sokar's dirty work. "How about you, Carter?"
A long beat and then, "What about me, sir?"
"You finding what you're looking for?"
"I'm helping Daniel," she said as if reminding him of something. And then he remembered that she hadn't gone into the temple with her own agenda. He guessed he could have remembered that if he'd really tried. And after hearing the tone of her voice he really wished he'd tried harder. He was used to having subordinate members of a team be, well, subordinate, but he wasn't used to such chilliness from one generally friendly Major Carter. It used to be she smiled at him just so, but these days her eyes were guarded and the shape her mouth made was anything but a smile.
He gave up on getting anything other than the bare minimum out of Carter. "How much longer, Daniel?"
"Well," the archeologist said, "it'll be too dark in here to work in about forty-five minutes."
"I take it we're walking back in the dark then," the colonel muttered relishing the days when he was in charge.
"Do you wish us to leave earlier, O'Neill?" Teal'c asked, eyes still at half mast.
Jack waved him off and settled back into a more comfortable position on the bench. "Nah. Let 'em have their fun."
As the sun slipped down over the horizon, Jack became more and more alert so that eventually, when Daniel and Carter trudged out of the dark temple, he was standing and shifting from one foot to the other like he'd been standing there for some time.
"This planet was once a part of Sokar's domain," Daniel said conversationally, as if the very name didn't give Jack a shot of anger that made the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
"Once a part?" Jack wanted clarification.
"It appears that he abandoned the planet long before our run in with him. And it seems, from the writings, like the people of this planet have always been a part of matriarchal societies."
"So you got the information you were looking for?" Jack asked him.
"I got pictures of everything. I only had time to translate a few things. I spent a lot of time on the Sokar panels."
"Well, we'll head back in the morning and you can get a start on your pictures back at the SGC," Jack said and set off in the direction of their accommodations.
"We're expected at dinner tonight," Daniel reminded them all. "They'll all begin gathering now that the sun's down."
"How could we possibly forget?" Jack wanted to know. They'd been guests of honor for the four days they'd been on the planet. So far the locals had been very forthcoming with information and had allowed Daniel access to anything he requested.
It took them no more than ten minutes to walk back to the center of the town and they all broke from formation to go to their various rooms to clean up a little for dinner. By the time they made it down to the hall where the feast was happening, there were platters being passed around long tables.
The leader, Astarte, saw SG-1 walk in and beckoned them over loudly. "My friends, come, come." She stood up and waved them over. There was a great smile on her face, and Jack had to admit she always seemed pleased to see them. "Colonel O'Neill," she said and patted the space on the bench next to her, "you've been saved a place." In fact, he noticed there had been space saved for the entire team, but as usual Astarte addressed only him. She had, on rare occasion, spoken directly to Daniel, but only when asked a question only she could answer.
As a matter of fact, Jack noticed the way she appropriated his arm as they sat next to one another. She hugged it against her body. Astarte was a very beautiful woman, but she was holding on to his eating hand and it had been a long day. Not to mention, it was a little awkward to be manhandled in front of his team...
Sam slid into her place at the table and studiously avoided the way Astarte sidled up to the Colonel. She didn't care what he did. Not anymore. She might have thought she felt for him. Once. But that was before he'd blown her off after Edora and then subsequently went on an undercover mission during which he said some things that she couldn't truly believe were only a part of his cover. If they were, in fact, why say them at all? She couldn't completely contain the grimace, though, as the Colonel climbed over the bench and took his seat next to Astarte.
She caught Daniel looking at her with a speculative look on his face. She didn't even want to know what he was thinking. Chances were he was right. Or would have been right. Before. She grabbed a tray of meats as it was going by and put some on her plate then looked around for the tray of cheeses she knew would be coming and saw it in Astarte's hands. She watched as the woman smiled flirtatiously at the Colonel who appeared none the wiser to her actual intentions. How he could miss that, though, she didn't know. He was a man with some experience with women, she'd guess. He should be able to spot interest from a hundred paces.
Astarte slid a hunk of smooth, white cheese onto the Colonel's plate letting her arm brush against his. Sam was suddenly glad that Teal'c was seated between her and the colonel because it made it much easier to ignore the whole situation. Which she'd start doing right now. She turned deliberately to Daniel.
"So what do you think it means that this planet was once Sokar's?"
"I'm not sure it means anything to us at this point. He's been gone for a while if I translated properly and considering how he was reviled, I think it's fair to say, from the way these people have relaxed, that it's been at least a generation since he left."
"So no nasty hell rooms we have to be worried about?"
He chuckled. "No, I don't think so." Daniel leaned around her and peered down the table to the Colonel and Astarte. "I don't think he realizes she's trying to put the moves on him."
He said it in a voice that suggested he was trying to be helpful, but considering he was only guessing what he thought was going on in Sam's head she decided not to play along. "I don't possibly know how he could miss it."
"Jack's not..." Daniel hesitated, "he's not, exactly... it's not like he's..."
"Oh for crying out loud, Daniel, spit it out," she said in a voice that, in hindsight, very well could have belonged to the Colonel.
"He's not the lady killer you apparently believe he is," Daniel said in a rush.
"I've never mentioned his prowess one way or the other," Sam said in what she hoped was a dismissive voice. And she hadn't. Not during Kynthia or Laira. Nor had she speculated too much on his life pre- or post-Sara. It wouldn't have been proper to speculate, not even in the privacy of her own mind. Not that she'd always been particularly proper when it came to thoughts of her commanding officer, but that was neither here nor there at this particular juncture. Not after the way he'd cut her down so fully with one blow after another.
Daniel just raised an eyebrow at her and went back to his meat. Sam sighed and accepted the tray of cheese that Teal'c finally passed to her. She avoided the creamy, white cheese that Astarte had slipped the colonel and went for something that looked a little sharper.
It would all be so much easier if she could convince herself that she didn't have feelings for him. But the truth was, she wouldn't be so hurt if she didn't.
Daniel accepted the tray of cheese from Sam and wondered, again, as she sighed, why she was putting herself through the ringer over Jack. How Jack hadn't seemed to notice was beyond him. Sort of like the way he hadn't noticed Astarte putting the moves on him little by little over the course of their stay. It had started out with heated looks and then had escalated into proprietary touches that clearly made Jack a little uncomfortable, but still he didn't seem to understand their motivation.
Or maybe he was playing dumb out of self preservation. Daniel would put his money on that, because while Jack may not be the lothario that Sam seemed to think he was, he was no slouch when it came to women. Maybe pretending like it wasn't happening was easier all the way around. Especially if he wasn't going to clue in to how badly it seemed to hurt Sam to see it happening.
Though, Daniel had to admit that Sam hadn't been looking at Jack the same since he'd come back from Edora. He'd been there when Jack had turned away from Sam in the middle of her explanation of his unlikely rescue to go to Laira. And Daniel, more than anyone, knew how hard Sam had truly pushed herself to bring him home. It was Daniel who had mentioned to Janet how he thought Sam might feel and Janet who had explained why things weren't as simple as Jack and Sam just talking it out.
And something must have happened between the two of them during Jack's undercover mission because she seemed to be treating him with a cool professionalism these days that made even Daniel a little chilly to be in the vicinity. Not that he didn't have some issues of his own with Jack following the undercover operation. Jack had been a real jerk to him and it had stung – even now still stung – even after knowing that he was playing a part. He wondered how much of what Jack had pulled out to say that day had been truth that the older man usually sat on.
"There doesn't seem to be much of Sokar left in the culture here," Daniel said, hoping to draw Sam back into the conversation so he didn't have to watch her push her food listlessly around her plate. If she wasn't going to eat it, the least she could do was talk to him, he figured.
"All we know of Sokar is that he built a hell. One would have to think there was more to him than that."
"But a purely matriarchal society? Doesn't seem like something a hell god would design."
"No," she agreed with him and pushed a particularly succulent looking bite of roast from one side of her plate to the other.
"I wish we had more time."
"Well, you're welcome to ask the Colonel, but I'm guessing we're out of here at ten hundred hours as scheduled."
Daniel waved a hand dismissively, "I'd need weeks in the temples here to really get to the bottom of anything. I've got photographs of the text inside only three of eighteen."
"Does that seem like a lot of temples to you?"
"How many churches are in Colorado Springs?" Daniel asked with a shrug.
"It's not the same thing."
"Close enough. Though to really speak to the number I'd need-"
"More time," Sam finished for him with a nod. "Sorry we're going home tomorrow."
Daniel leaned around her and looked down at Jack and Astarte. Astarte was running her hand from Jack's shoulder to elbow as he attempted to take a bite of his dinner. He frowned slightly before he took his bite. "Yeah," Daniel said distractedly, "me too."
Jack pushed his plate away, full to the brim on the fantastic meats and cheeses that had been provided for dinner. But he had to admit, he missed green vegetables a little after four days on this planet. And if he did, Carter the salad lover was probably going nuts. He looked down the table to see her plate full of food cut up into little bite size pieces. She appeared to have spent another evening playing with her food rather than eating it. He could order her to eat, he figured, but that wouldn't go very far towards thawing the chilly attitude she'd had towards him. Though, if her not eating continued, chilly attitude be damned – her health was worth more than her being happy with him. Maybe once they got home and she had access to Earth food... Maybe she just didn't like the local fare.
Astarte placed her hand high on his thigh to get his attention. He shifted uncomfortably and dislodged her hand. It was becoming clear to him that she was interested in more than his diplomatic skills. "It is a beautiful night," she said. "Perhaps you would like a moonlit tour of our city."
"That's very... kind and I'm sure Daniel would be all over that, but we've got to get ourselves prepared to move out in the morning. The 'gate is quite a hike away."
"Can I convince you to share some hot cider with me before you retire?" she cajoled.
They'd learned on the first day the cider was pleasant and more than mildly alcoholic. "No, thank you. I really need to get the team back to our accommodations."
She looked disappointed and he did feel bad. She'd been nothing but nice and solicitous, to him especially, since their arrival. He wouldn't have really expected treatment so good from the leader of a matriarchal society. Usually, in those situations, the men were treated like Carter's underlings, but he got the impression that her interest in him precluded the normal protocols.
He'd tried hard to make it look like he had no idea what was going on. Partly, he figured, because if he played dumb with her she'd eventually give up. Partly, also, because he didn't need to give his team anymore ammunition after Laira and Kynthia before her. He still heard more about both of those dalliances than he had any real desire to. Not that Laira was a mere dalliance. She'd been special, in a way, and manipulative in another to the point that he wasn't really sure how he felt about her. But knowing she might be pregnant with his child had made him invite her to Earth despite knowing he could be overheard by his team and they'd likely guess why he'd made the invitation. It wasn't that he was embarrassed, exactly, but it was a little strange to know that people had such knowledge of your sex life. The first time he'd gotten laid in over two years and it was out there for everyone to know about. That was what he got for being so easily manipulated.
It wasn't as if he hadn't kicked himself for that time and again. But Daniel seemed a bit pissed about the whole situation and he couldn't figure out why. Carter seemed disappointed in him and he thought maybe that had something to do with the fact that she'd always had him on a bit of a CO's pedestal. There might have been a little hero worship – that he didn't think he deserved – involved. Teal'c had given him one cross look and then that had been the end of it. But that one cross look made him wonder what, exactly, he was missing.
And then the undercover operation had happened and whatever was wrong with his team was just exacerbated by the asshole he'd had to pretend to be. And it had been difficult. He wasn't a natural asshole despite what some of his subordinates may have thought over the years. And the time he'd spent as an asshole after Charlie's death was a time he liked to forget about, for several obvious reasons.
He was pulled out of his thoughts about his team by Astarte's hand on him once more. He noticed, then, that people were getting up from the tables.
"I'll bid you good night, Colonel O'Neill," Astarte said and pressed a kiss to the corner of his eye as he'd seen several of their people do. It made him uncomfortable to have her lips that close to his, if he was being honest.
He looked over his shoulder and saw his teammates' eyes on them. Great. Just what he needed. "Thanks," he mumbled to the woman before turning towards his team. "C'mon guys, it's time to get settled in for the night. We've got an early morning ahead of us."
The four of them made their way back to their accommodations where goodnights were murmered as Jack reminded them that they were bugging out at oh six hundred the next morning to make the four hour hike to the gate. Daniel whined a little at the early morning but Jack's eyes were on Carter as he made the reminder. She was looking down at her boots the whole time, even as she popped off a smart, "Yes, sir," before she turned towards her room.
Jack sighed and turned away towards his door. He wished he knew what was so wrong between him and Carter. It just didn't seem right to end a day off-world without her brilliant smile.