Warnings: Descriptions of injuries and field treatments of injuries.
Categories: Ship, Het, Action, Romance
Characters: Jack O'Neill (primary), Sam Carter (primary), Daniel Jackson, Teal'c
Spoilers: Mild spoilers through season seven. Set between Death Knell and Heroes, just like my last two long S/J fics, because that's the perfect pocket for fic. The epilogue jumps forward to 200.
A/N: It's nice to have an actual plot, but who says those S/J moments should be sensibly rationed? Our heroes enjoy a nice, clichéd planet-stranding.
Credits: Beta by Anne Rose and Lizzoid, as per usual. Research credits include Stargate SG-1: The Illustrated Companion, Seasons 7 and 8 by Thomasina Gibson; The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht; The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Travel by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht; Body Trauma: A Writer's Guide to Wounds and Injuries by David W. Page, M.D.; 101 Key Ideas in Physics by Jim Breithaupt; and The Kalevala: An Epic Poem after Oral Tradition by Elias Lonnrot, translated by Keith Bosley.
Disclaimer: MGM owns lots of cool stuff, but I only borrow the very best.
Jack O'Neill eyed the rickety cart dubiously. It looked like an oversized wheelbarrow built from scraps. "You want to use that?"
Daniel sighed. "It's either this, or we carry the artifact back to the gate."
"The statue's weight is considerable, O'Neill." Teal'c continued to watch the sky, shielding his eyes from the planet's blazing sun. "And Ba'al's forces may arrive at any time."
Jack glanced towards the statue and let out a slow breath. "What about taking it apart?"
"Not an option, sir." Carter looked up from her readings. "I'll need to get the statue back to the lab before I can determine what -- if any -- technology the Ancients concealed within it."
"Ba'al believes the statue to be powerful," Teal'c said. "Bra'tac learned that Ba'al has ordered his forces to take any measures necessary to retrieve it before Anubis learns of its existence."
"I suspect it generates a defensive barrier of some kind," Daniel said. "According to Finnish mythology, Väinämöinen placed a curse upon anyone attempting to travel between Tuonela -- the underworld -- and our realm. He was believed to be a powerful magician, and the son of the goddess Ilmatar."
"And this is him?" Jack had serious doubts about that. "Because I'm not seeing the resemblance."
"No," Daniel said. "This is Ilmatar."
"Ah." Jack nodded. "That explains the -- "
"Yes," Daniel said. "The point is, there's at least a chance that Väinämöinen either possessed Ancient technology, or was in fact an Ancient himself. Granted, I haven't studied the legends as closely as I would like, but I did read a translation of the Kalevala a few years ago, and in retrospect I think many aspects of the legend sound a little more Ancient than Goa'uld. Especially taking into consideration Ba'al's interest in the whole thing."
As Daniel babbled, the rest of the team tilted the heavy statue and prepared to slide it onto the cart. Jack let Daniel take over on the front end, and circled around to help Carter and Teal'c with the heavy lifting. He paused, and told himself a variety of lies about why he'd just come to an abrupt halt instead of following through with the lifting.
Nope. Jack would never ogle Carter's backside while she wrestled a statue onto a rickety old cart.
And Carter certainly wouldn't smile if she caught him at it. He must have imagined that part. That explanation made the most sense. After all, his imagination was pretty fond of the way she sometimes caught her bottom lip between her teeth.
His imagination had good tastes, because that was hot.
The cart wobbled as Jack and Carter pushed it through the long-deserted town. Teal'c and Daniel led the way, scanning the air for death gliders and kicking rocks out of the cart's path.
"What initially caught my attention," Daniel was saying, "Is that Väinämöinen was said to possess all of the knowledge of mankind at birth. I thought he might be an Harcesis child, but the trouble with the Kalevala is that it was written relatively recently, from an historical perspective, and my knowledge of Finnish is virtually non-existent. I'm afraid that my research on the original source material -- which by comparison is among the oldest written material in Europe -- was less than complete."
"We could only hope," Jack muttered.
Carter laughed softly, and for a moment her definitely-not-imagined smile occupied Jack's full attention.
Teal'c's voice sent Jack's hand to his weapon as he snapped his head around to look for the threat. The threat, however, was unfazed by the P-90, and letting go of the cart meant that the heavy statue continued straight towards said threat, with Carter -- despite her best efforts -- firmly in tow.
The cart came to a sinking halt, as did Carter, who now stood boot-deep in the mud puddle Teal'c had tried to warn them about.
And that was precisely why the military frowned on liking people's smiles.
It took a few minutes to free the cart from the sucking mud, which clung stubbornly to the wheels, stuck to their pantlegs, and oozed uninvited into their boots. Sam was glad they'd be back to the SGC soon. While soggy feet were hardly an unusual or even particularly significant hardship in her line of work, she did appreciate the luxury of knowing that for once, she wouldn't have to endure it for long.
In the years, perhaps even centuries, since people had inhabited this planet, weeds had reclaimed most of what had once served as a fairly well-traveled road to the stargate. While dry cart wheels rolled easily over crumbling cobblestone, and had a reasonable ability to contend with weeds and tall grasses, mud-caked cart wheels were somewhat stymied by abundant plant life.
"This foe is particularly irksome," Teal'c observed as the grass rebounded from a swipe of his staff weapon.
"Attack of the alfalfa," Colonel O'Neill said. "It sounds like a B movie."
"Actually it's bromegrass," Daniel said. "Alfalfa is leafier. Also flatter, which would be an improvement."
"Right," Colonel O'Neill said. "Attack of the Bromegrass. It has a ring."
Daniel glanced back at them, looking perplexed. "Not really."
SG-1 took turns pushing the cart, and battling the vast bromegrass army.
"Tell me again why we're not using something with an engine to haul this thing?" Colonel O'Neill asked.
"The statue is a little bit bigger than I anticipated," Daniel said.
"Ya think?" Colonel O'Neill looked pointedly at the small case riding in the cart beside the foot of the statue it was meant to contain.
"Returning to the stargate would have taken time," Teal'c said. "Forces sent by either Ba'al or Anubis may arrive -- "
"Yeah." Colonel O'Neill sighed. "I suppose getting shot at might have complicated the mission. But for next time, let's try to remember that old saying."
Sam smiled to herself, and took the bait when he failed to elaborate. "What saying is that, sir?"
"You know the one, Carter. Something about measure twice, don't end up pushing a giant wheelbarrow through a hayfield."
Teal'c hid a smile. "I am unfamiliar with that expression, O'Neill."
By the time they came within sight of the stargate, the hardening mud had rendered the cart wheel virtually immobile, and they had to stop with increasing frequency to pull grass out from around the axle.
Sam paused to wipe the sweat from her eyes. "With all due respect to the laws of physics, I'm starting to think that this thing is actually getting heavier."
She gratefully let Teal'c take her place as Colonel O'Neill switched off with Daniel.
"I think you're right, Sam. It is heavier."
Colonel O'Neill shot him a look. "Aren't you a scientist?"
"Yes, I realize Sam was kidding, but this is a lot more work now than it was earlier."
"The ground is softer here," Teal'c pointed out.
"Exactly," Daniel said. "So what I'm suggesting is that it might be easier if we just picked it up."
The four of them carried it the rest of the way to the DHD.
"I don't know about the rest of you," Colonel O'Neill said. "But I'm looking forward to a nice cold beer and some time on the couch. Who's up for a movie night? Carter, how about you?"
"Sorry sir, but my evening's set. This statue and I have a hot date with an MRI unit."
"Sorry Jack, I think I'll stick around for the MRI. I'm a little anxious to see what's inside this thing."
"I've got a more pressing question." Sam straightened up as they set the cart beside the DHD. "What's the best way to get this thing through the gate?"
Jack knew a thing or two about rickety wooden cart wheels full of mud and big stone steps. Well one thing, and that was that they didn't mix. They'd have to carry the statue through the stargate. The question was whether or not it went with or without the cart.
"We'll have to take it up the steps at an angle," Carter said. "The cart will make it a little less awkward to maneuver."
Jack nodded. "It's a plan. Teal'c, dial us home."
They passed their excess gear through the event horizon, then Daniel and Teal'c lifted one end, while Jack and Carter brought up the rear.
Daniel and Teal'c disappeared backwards through the wormhole, followed by the head of the statue, which started to vibrate.
"Sir -- "
The explosion knocked Jack backwards. Damn that was loud. And bright. He lay on his back and blinked back the swirling birdies. Then the pain washed over him, and he had to fight to stay awake.
Silence. Or maybe he'd gone deaf? "Carter!"
Nope. He'd heard that. He rolled and levered himself up, wincing, but concern outranked pain, and he lurched to her side. "Carter?"
She groaned, which meant his heart could beat again. Breathing, though -- that had to wait until he found the source of the blood he'd just discovered on his fingers.
Shrapnel from the explosion had struck her in the temple. The cut didn't look too bad, except for the copious bleeding so typical of head wounds. Fortunately that seemed to have slowed to oozing. She groaned again, and opened her eyes, but yelped in pain when she tried to move.
He could hear the pain in her voice, and it only took a glance to see why. Her arm featured a distinctly unnatural bump just below the elbow. He swore softly.
"Yep. But I've got just the -- " His pack. It had been on the cart with the statue. Hers too. A quick glance around the vicinity told him that while they had plenty in the way of broken statue chunks and splintered wheelbarrow pieces, their supplies had left them behind. "Think you can move?"
She nodded quickly in that way that meant she probably couldn't, but that she'd do it anyway.
"Okay, come on." He helped her up, wincing as his own injuries made themselves known. "Let's dial home."
He dialed. Nothing happened. He stepped aside to let Carter dial. Still nothing.
"The explosion might have damaged the DHD, sir." She looked pale.
"Can you fix it?"
"I can try." She started to hunker down beside the DHD, cradling her injured arm.
He dropped down beside her. "We should fix that first."
"Ya think?" She smiled a little as she let him get a better look.
They'd set each other's bones before. All a part of the job. Jack hated that part of the job. He hated the scraping sound a bone made as the two fractured pieces slid over each other, and he really hated the hiss of pain that Carter made right before the two pieces popped back where they belonged.
At least they went back where they belonged. Jack's hands still shook from the effort, and he covered by turning away from her to look for splinting materials. The shattered cart would have to do.
His whole body ached, but one particular spot on his thigh demanded his attention. He ignored it as best he could and hobbled back to Carter with the most likely fragments of wood.
"You're limping, sir."
She waited until he'd tied off her splint before she asked about his leg again. He leaned back against the DHD as she gently peeled the torn fabric of his BDUs out of the bloody hole in his thigh. "There's something lodged in the wound," she said. "I need to get a better look at it."
A sound caught Jack's attention, and he shielded his eyes against the sun as he scanned the sky. "It'll have to keep," he said, spotting an al'kesh and two death gliders. "We've got incoming."
They headed for the treeline.
"Let's hope it's Ba'al," Carter said. "I'm not relishing the thought of another round with a kull warrior today."
"Now, see, as long as we're hoping, why not hope for the free Jaffa, or maybe the Tok'ra?"
"Good point, sir."
"Not really," Jack said. "Seeing as we can't possibly hope to be that lucky."
"We still have our sidearms." Carter tried to look for the positive in their situation as they watched the stargate from the treeline. Whoever had landed near the village had yet to come into view.
"Yep, peachy." Colonel O'Neill leaned against the tree they were using as cover. His knuckles turned white as he gripped a branch.
"Sir, we should take care of your leg while we have the chance."
"I suppose." He kept watching the stargate.
"I'll need you to lay down so that I can elevate your leg, sir."
"Yeah, all right."
She stripped off her tee shirt, thankful that she still had it on despite the sweltering heat.
"I might need something to stop the bleeding," she explained.
"Is this the part where you ask me to take off my pants?"
Despite the circumstances, she had to laugh at the face he made. "I don't think that's necessary, sir."
"Good. Running from the goa'uld in my underwear is one nightmare I'd prefer not to actually experience."
That gave her pause, and she caught his eye. "You've had dreams about running from the goa'uld in your underwear?"
"Or sometimes I'm chasing the school bus." He shrugged and settled down behind the tree.
She smiled and shook her head.
"Laughing at me, Carter?"
She returned his grin. "No more than usual, sir."
A handy fallen branch served to elevate his leg, and she once again peeled the torn fabric from the wound. She could see the piece of statue wedged in the muscle. It had to hurt. She opened her pocketknife.
"I'm not cutting anything, sir. I just need to see how deep this goes." She carefully slid the knife blade alongside the embedded piece of stone.
Colonel O'Neill grunted.
"Sorry." She drew out the fragment, letting herself breathe again as she saw that the injury was less severe than she feared. It was deep, but it didn't appear to have nicked a major artery. "I need to let this bleed for a minute, since we don't have a way to irrigate the wound."
Whoever had landed near the village still hadn't approached the stargate. She helped Jack sit up, and then bandaged his leg with strips torn from her shirt.
"They must have seen us from the air," Colonel O'Neill said. "They're probably circling around for an ambush."
She nodded. "I agree, sir."
"Then let's not be here."
Jack let Carter pull him to his feet, and they headed northeast on the guess that Ba'al's Jaffa were most likely to try circling around to the south.
"Admit it, Carter," Jack said after several minutes of hiking. "You suggested this direction because you like climbing hills."
She glanced at him and tried to cover her smile with mock exasperation. "Sir, there's barely an incline."
"Yeah, that's what they all say."
"How's your leg, sir?"
"Oh, just peachy."
She glanced back at him. "Sir -- "
"I'm a little sore," he added. "But much better since you pulled that chunk of Finnish goddess out of -- "
They both froze at a faint sound, and scanned the woods southwest of their location. A second noise proved Carter's hunch right on the money, and they headed north once again, alert for anything that might provide cover.
Carter signaled him, and pointed out a spot in the distance. They made for it, using as much stealth as the terrain allowed.
Jack had his doubts as the crumbling old well came into view. From a distance, it had looked like a structure that might provide shelter, or a strategic spot from which to shoot at the bad guys. But apparently that was wishful thinking.
Carter wordlessly indicated her suggestion that they climb inside.
"In there?" he mouthed silently. "What are you, nuts?"
She grinned and shrugged, then leaned over to test a rope that looked like it had seen better decades.
Jack picked up a pebble and dropped it down the well. The faint splash failed to reassure him much. It took only inches of water to splash, and if the rope snapped, inches of water wouldn't prevent a broken leg. On the other hand, there was always the possibility of drowning.
Voices -- no mistaking them this time -- filtered through the trees.
"Yeah, okay," he said, "But -- " He nodded at Carter's injured arm.
She had a plan, though. Carter always had a plan. Once she was satisfied with the position of the rope, they climbed into the well facing each other, backs to one wall, feet braced against the other. They put very little weight on the elderly rope.
At least there was one spot on this planet that wasn't hotter than Hades, and this was it. The cool of the well offered a welcome relief. Their legs brushed each other repeatedly as they descended, and the sound of their breathing seemed loud in the dark, confined space.
They paused just above the water. Jack's injured leg protested the cramped position. His other leg, in the meantime, rather enjoyed the contact with Carter's. Her leg felt especially warm against his in the cool air, and he tried to scold himself for noticing, but hey, this was Carter. Noticing couldn't be helped.
She shifted against him.
"Well here we are," Jack said quietly. "Two hips that pass in the night."
She snorted softly.
He strained to see her face in the dark. "Did you just roll your eyes at me, Carter?"
"I wouldn't dream of it, sir."
He could hear the smile in her low-pitched voice, and found himself smiling back. So the situation sucked. He was still alone with Carter.
He felt her leg moving against his again, and realized that if his muscles were cramping from maintaining this position, she must be working twice as hard. Her legs were shorter, so she had to keep them straighter as she braced herself against the wall. "How're you holding up?"
She didn't answer, because the distant voices of their pursuers filtered down from above, and they both held their breath, waiting.
Jack felt Carter's arm come to rest against his leg. He might have enjoyed that, even with the whole imminent death thing, but the hunk of rickety cart between her hand and his thigh spoiled the fantasy a bit. On the plus side, nobody thought to fire any staff weapons down the well, and the voices seemed to continue north.
Sam kept flexing her muscles, grateful for all the time she'd spent in the gym. Truth be told, she was starting to wonder about the temperature of the water below.
"Ready to head back up?" Colonel O'Neill asked.
She nodded, although he couldn't see her in the dark. "Whenever you are, sir."
Climbing out proved a little more difficult than the descent. Sam tucked her left foot under her, while maintaining pressure on the opposite wall with her right. Then she pushed up a few inches with her uninjured hand. Across from her, the colonel did the same.
They'd managed about three feet, both breathing hard, when with a loud crack part of the wall gave way, and Colonel O'Neill tumbled downward in a shower of rocks and dirt to splash into the water below.
"Colonel!" Sam scrambled awkwardly back down to drop into the water after him. "Sir!"
She searched the water for him for a desperate moment before bumping into him in the narrow space. He emerged beside her, and her feet encountered the solid ground as she straightened up. They stood close, chest deep in water, and she laughed with relief. "Are you okay, sir?"
"Yep," he said. "You've saved me from drowning." Then, despite the fact that they were down an old well on an alien planet with enemy Jaffa searching for them, he splashed her.
That left her no choice, really. She laughed and splashed him right back.
They were more careful the second time they tried climbing out of the well.
"Wait," Carter said as she reached the spot where Jack's foot had slipped. "There's something here. It's hollow."
He could hear her digging around in the dark, her makeshift splint knocking against the rocks.
"That's why it collapsed," she said. "Someone designed it as a hiding place."
She pressed a bundle of cloth into his hand. "For this, sir."
"And this is?"
"I guess we'll find out when we reach the surface."
They climbed on in silence. It went slowly, and by the time they got to the top, Jack's faith in his own legs was growing a little thin.
Carter climbed out first, and reached down to take the object she'd found.
He followed, and collapsed on the grass at her feet. "So what is it?"
She unfolded the cloth. "It's just -- Oh! It looks like a map of some kind, sir."
Jack climbed to his feet and went to peer over her shoulder. "Daniel's going to be sorry he missed this."
"I wish he was here," she said. "I can't read a word of it."
He was about to feign hurt feelings at her assumption that he also couldn't read the language on the map when he caught a glimpse of her shoulder. "Carter, hold still."
Dirt from the well covered her wet back. His was probably just as filthy. The long scratches on her shoulders, though -- he didn't like the look of those. He wiped the dirt from one, and she flinched at his touch. "Sore?"
"No, not really," she said. "What is it?"
"You scraped up your shoulders a bit." He added a note of teasing to his voice. "Also, you're filthy."
She laughed. "And you aren't, sir?"
"You've got me there." He kept wiping away the dirt, making sure none of the scratches went too deep.
"Sir, with all due respect, we need to get moving."
He knew she was right, and not just because of the Jaffa. If he kept touching her shoulders, he was bound to notice the softness of her skin, and no good could come of that.
"If this represents the stargate, then this must be the village." Carter pointed out locations on the cloth map. "It looks like the mapmaker found something else worth noting, here, across this stream."
"Could be anything," Jack said.
"True, but whatever it is, it's due east and near fresh water. I think it's worth checking out."
Due east had the advantage of putting some distance between themselves and Ba'al's forces, so Jack didn't need much convincing. He really didn't want to meet up with Ba'al, or his Jaffa, before they had a little more of a plan than none.
Sam's boots sloshed with every step, but at least the wet clothes made the planet's heat a little easier to take. The blazing sun almost felt good as it dried her clothes. They watched the sky, and listened for signs of pursuit, but it seemed they were alone for the moment.
"Exactly how far away is this stream?" Colonel O'Neill asked.
"I'd guess about four klicks," she answered. "But that's assuming the map is drawn to scale, and that's a pretty big jump."
"We'd better get hopping in any case, because we're running low on daylight." He started humming something that sounded suspiciously like Peter Cottontail.
Sam smiled and shook her head. "I've been thinking about the explosion, and I don't think the statue contained a shield generator like we originally guessed. Whatever it was, it must have related to the stargate technology directly, and exposing it to the wormhole must have triggered it somehow. That's why the DHD won't dial out."
"A statue that blows up when someone tries to steal it? Seems like overkill."
"I'm sure it was never intended to actually go through the gate. The explosion was probably an unintended side-effect of the true function."
They'd covered less than two klicks when Sam heard the distinctive sound of running water in the distance.
"Looks like the map's not to scale," Colonel O'Neill said.
"Can't say I'm disappointed about that, sir."
"Tired of hiking in squishy boots already? Don't go soft on me, Carter."
"I'll do my best, sir, but all bets are off if I break a nail."
He paused, and caught her uninjured hand. He lifted it, and made a show of subjecting her chipped, dirty fingernails to intense scrutiny. "We're safe so far," he said. "They're perfect."
She returned his smile, and found herself in no particular hurry to reclaim her hand, which he held for a moment too long before releasing it with a reluctance that she told herself she imagined.
He started humming again.
"Having a good time, sir?"
"We couldn't ask for a nicer day," he said. "The sun is shining, the birds are singing . . . various woodland creatures are frolicking."
"Enemy Jaffa are hoping to ambush us."
"Well there is that." Colonel O'Neill didn't seem unduly bothered by the danger. "Upstream or downstream?"
They slogged upstream, knee-deep in water yet again. "It's just like a trip to Six Flags."
"What's that, sir?"
"This." He gestured to the planet in general. "It reminds me of visiting a theme park. Just when your pants start to feel dry again, someone wants to get back on the log ride."
She smiled at him, which brought a few other things in mind. Well, mostly just the one thing. Carter's smile could make any planet the happiest place in the galaxy, which explained his good mood.
Then again, getting stranded on an alien planet with Carter sure beat the hell out of searching an alien planet for Carter. She'd done far too much fighting for her life on her own lately. He hated that. This was better.
She nodded, but he could see her doubt.
He went with mock-indignation. "It's possible."
"Of course it is, sir." She looked like she had more to say, but whatever it was, she kept it to herself, and he chose not to pursue it.
They settled down on grass beside the stream and shed their boots.
"So what do you say, Carter?" Jack asked. "Fish sound good?"
"For dinner," he said. "I know it can't compare to the culinary heights of an MRE, but . . . " He spotted a branch of the right shape, and went to fetch it. He had to do something. Unless he wanted Carter to catch him staring at her ankles. Which he did not.
He waded into the stream and shed his tee shirt in order to fashion it into a fishing net. When he glanced back towards Carter, she was leaning back with her eyes closed, the sun bathing her face. A guy's imagination could go all sorts of places.
Jack firmly ordered his mind back in the direction of dinner, and told his imagination that it was nuts for thinking that Carter was now ogling his bare back. Sure, he looked pretty good for his age, but that little fantasy was pretty far-fetched.
Sam watched Colonel O'Neill fish. Truth be told, she'd always regretted that fishing trip they'd failed to take a few years ago. Of course that trip would have involved proper fishing poles, as well as relaxing on the dock beside a cooler full of beer, and, according to Teal'c, not much in the way of actual fish.
She made a half-hearted effort to not admire how her commanding officer looked without his shirt, but after an afternoon spent noticing how he looked in a wet tee shirt that clung in all the right places, she found her willpower somewhat lacking.
Gathering some firewood seemed like the thing to do, but there also seemed to be plenty of it in the immediate vicinity, so as a distraction it failed.
She scrambled to her feet, amused by the genuine excitement in his voice. He tossed a wriggling fish onto the bank by her feet, and she grabbed it before it could flop its way back into the water. Holding a wet, struggling fish with only one hand proved challenging, and Colonel O'Neill now had a second one trapped in his makeshift net.
He smiled at her, triumphant, and also clearly amused by her efforts.
Her heart melted at that smile under normal circumstances. She had no defense against him like this, laughing, with water running down his bare chest and sparkling in the late afternoon sun. His eyes met hers.
She swallowed hard.
For a moment they stood like that, both clutching flopping fish, eyes locked. She swallowed again.
In moments like this, she found it impossible to lie to herself about her feelings, and she knew that she could only lie to him because he allowed it. They had to, after all. Duty. Honor. Fate of the galaxy. But if they ever got that part settled, the rest would just fall into place.
"We should cook the fish."
His soft voice brought a lump to her throat, and she nodded in agreement.
Colonel O'Neill cleaned the fish while she built the fire, deftly drawing a spark from two stones and coaxing the ember to life.
"Amazing," Colonel O'Neill said. "I've seen Daniel take longer using actual matches. And two hands."
She grinned and revealed her secret. "Iron pyrite. I found it in the stream."
She kept the fire small, and they wrapped the fish in the bountiful local bromegrass to cook it.
"This is wonderful," Sam said after her first bite melted in her mouth. "You can cook for me any time."
"Just say the word, Carter."
Their eyes met again and she found herself imagining a lifetime of flakey, tender fish served to her by a shirtless Jack O'Neill. "I will," she said. "You can count on it."
Jack watched Carter's eyes roll back in her head as she took another bite of the fish. That little sound of appreciation that she made was just about the hottest thing he'd ever heard. He definitely hoped to hear that again.
They'd put out the fire to keep the light from giving away their position as the sun dropped below the horizon.
"I'll do the dishes," Jack volunteered.
"Generous." Carter rewarded him with a smile. Then she started talking about the types of technology that could possibly interrupt the communication between the DHD and the stargate.
Jack listened, mostly, but more because he liked to hear Carter talk than because he hoped to follow her train of thought. Also, shop talk was probably a good idea at this point, because he'd been entertaining a vague fantasy about kissing her since about the time he'd tossed the first fish up onto the bank.
Shop talk didn't do much towards deterring those thoughts, and he reached into his pocket to find a more adequate distraction. Yes. He set about untangling the string on his yoyo. He'd made pretty good progress when he realized that Carter had stopped talking.
He looked up to find her grinning at him.
"We have no supplies," she said.
"But you have a yoyo."
Her smile grew, and that very temptation he'd been working so hard to ignore grew right along with it. He was pretty sure she was on the same page, too, and he liked that. Liked it lots. But it wasn't very helpful.
He thought about suggesting that they get some rest, but it was early. Besides, they had plenty of experience fighting temptation, and an evening spent in each other's company was too rare to waste. "How about a little license plate bingo?"
Sam suggested putting a little more distance between themselves and the Jaffa, who by now had failed to ambush them in the woods near the stargate. They scattered the evidence of their fire and headed upstream.
Colonel O'Neill had put his shirt back on, and Sam scolded herself for being sad about that. "I was thinking that the device in the statue might have downloaded a program of some kind into the DHD before it exploded. It could be as simple as rebooting the system, or it might require a line by line analysis of the dialing protocols. I know what you're thinking -- that would take days, and we don't have the equipment, but -- "
"That's not what I was thinking." His voice sounded dangerously like he'd been thinking exactly what she was trying so very hard not to think. But he'd never say it.
Or would he? Sam's heart pounded in her chest, and her throat felt dry.
"I was thinking that we could use a deck of cards," he said. "License plate bingo could stalemate for weeks in a place like this."
She smiled. She'd always found his sense of humor particularly appealing. Tonight she found it nearly irresistible. She estimated that at this rate it would take about two more completely Jack-like comments or actions to shatter seven years of resolve, despite stern reminders from her conscience regarding the fate of the galaxy.
"Excellent," he said, interrupting her thoughts. "Carter, check this out."
The planet's small moon reflected just enough light through the trees to allow her to do just that, and she got an eyeful of Jack's backside as he bent down to investigate his find. "What's that, sir?"
"Home," he answered. "At least for tonight. These bushes will provide something in the way of cover, and it looks like there's plenty of room for two."
There was, and Sam even managed to get some sleep before Colonel O'Neill woke her up for her watch. Her arm throbbed more than it had during the daylight hours, and she tried not to dwell on her lost pack, but she really wanted some ibuprofen. Or morphine. Either one, really.
Colonel O'Neill stirred in his sleep. Usually he could sleep anywhere. A lifetime of military service tended to cultivate that skill. Not tonight, though. Sam thought he'd been awake about a half-dozen times, and it worried her.
His hand shot to his sidearm and he blinked. "Carter?"
"Sorry, sir. I thought you were awake."
"Maybe I was, but just a little bit." His face contorted in pain as he sat up.
She moved quickly to help him. "Your leg?"
She checked the bandage, worried that the repeated exposure to water might have caused the fabric to shrink, but she could still slip her fingers between the cloth and his skin. The heat and swelling in the area worried her, though. "I'll need to take a better look as soon as it's light enough."
He nodded, and his eyes met hers in the darkness. "How's the arm?"
Suddenly much better. "It's fine. Good, even. I almost forgot it."
He nodded, getting a bit more of the truth than she intended, and nudged her shoulder gently with his own. "Yeah, me too."
Jack could look at Carter all day. It was his favorite thing to do. Well, next to kissing her, but he never got to do that. His eyes flicked to her lips before he could stop them, and his mind went there, to the time loop and his very favorite memory.
He was dwelling, and he knew better. So kissing was out. She was still here, smiling at him, touching him, making him glad to be here -- or anywhere -- with her.
The tips of her fingers brushed the side of his knee. Innocent, really. That was just where her hand had ended up after checking his bandage. But he liked it.
He followed her gaze to the horizon, where the sky had taken on a stunning shade of pink as dawn approached. The colors spread, the sunrise a crisp moment of splendid beauty, and the very best part was that he got to share it with Carter.
Sam gasped when she pulled the bandage away from Colonel O'Neill's thigh, and she swore under her breath.
"It's infected, sir." She managed to keep most of the panic out of her voice, but that redness spreading up his thigh -- she swallowed hard. She needed to find a way to treat this, now.
"It's . . . not good." A half-dozen things would work in a pinch. She just needed to find one of them. "Stay here, sir, I'll go -- "
He caught her arm. "Not alone. It's a little sore, but it's not like I can't walk."
"No, sir. You can't. Moving around will cause the infection to spread faster."
He accepted that, and she headed out to scan the area for anything that might work as a natural antibiotic. Flowers caught her eye, and she bit her lip, hardly daring to hope. She looked.
A bee crawled up the stamen and took flight. Sam followed it.
Tailing an insect proved trickier than one might expect, and more than once Sam feared she'd lost it, or that in all likelihood she was following an altogether different bee, but she eventually tracked down the local source of bees, which was the important part.
Smoke. She remembered that smoke allegedly calmed bees. Other than that, Sam knew very little about collecting honey. Early morning was probably not the best time for this, nor was she dressed at all appropriately, but Colonel O'Neill needed an antibiotic, and right now honey was the best option.
She found a piece of bark, filled it with leaves and grasses, and looked for a rock to strike with her iron pyrite. It took a few minutes to accomplish a portable, smoky fire. Then she focused on her objective. That, and on balancing her fire in her injured hand, hopefully without lighting her splint on fire.
Approaching the hive stirred up some sort of instinctive fear in her, and that caught her by surprise. She'd faced tyrannical aliens bent on galactic domination. These were insects. She mentally listed a dozen things more painful than beestings, and realized she'd experienced about half of those in the last month.
For some reason, that didn't help.
When she actually reached the hive, and stood there holding her smoking pile of damp leaves, she realized that doing this without getting stung might prove impossible. She didn't even know where specifically to look for a comb that contained honey.
She watched the bees, hoping they'd show some signs of moving slower as the smoke took effect, but she really couldn't tell much of a difference. Studying the hive, she made the guess and gently used her knife to brush some of the bees off of a comb she thought likely.
"Ouch." She bit her lip, and concentrated on freeing the selected comb without reacting to further stings. When the piece finally broke off, she fled, pausing only long enough to stamp out her smoldering leaves. Starting a forest fire would probably attract the Jaffa.
Enemy Jaffa were definitely worse than bees.
Jack leaned back against a tree and waited. He'd felt better. But he'd also felt worse, and he trusted that Carter would have him fixed up in no time. He'd just started to worry that she'd run into trouble when she returned, out of breath and flushed, and dropped down beside him.
Jack immediately noticed the welts on her arm. Swollen welts. One had a dead bee -- or part of a dead bee -- still attached. "Carter, what -- "
"It's nothing, sir." She thrust a sticky piece of something into his hand. "Hold this."
"Carter, you need -- "
"It can wait." She got to work on his bandage. "This can't."
He watched her work, and tried not to wince as she scraped at his wound with her knife. That she'd raided a bee's nest impressed him. When bees had set up housekeeping in his gutters, he'd called an exterminator. "So . . . honey?"
"It's a natural antibiotic." She took the comb from him. "This might hurt a bit."
It did hurt. "Ow, Carter!"
"Sorry, sir. I had to make sure it filled the wound." Her fingers, sticky from the honey, slid a little farther up his thigh, and she poked at the area surrounding the injury. "Is that sore?"
"Nope." He could still see the worry in her eyes. "But I won't complain if you try a little higher."
Her smile returned, and she shook her head at him.
"Now." He caught her hand. "Let's see your arm."
He took her knife and used it to gently scrape the stingers from her skin. "Geez, Carter, how many times did you get stung?"
She shrugged. "I didn't stop to count."
"I wish you'd waited -- "
"There wasn't time, sir. I had to stop your infection from spreading before it had serious consequences. The honey represented the best chance to do that."
He turned her hand over, searching her arm for more stingers. "How long until we know if it worked?"
"A few hours."
"Okay, where else?" He urged her to turn around, and found another stinger in her shoulder. "That makes lucky number thirteen. Will you let me -- "
He slid her tank top out of the way to reveal one last sting. He took care of it. "You'd better head down to the stream and see what you can do about the swelling."
She nodded, fixed her shirt, and climbed to her feet. "I'll be right back, sir."
"Carter?" He waited until she met his gaze. "Thank you."
Sam hurried down to the stream to smear some nice, soothing mud over the welts on her arm. That felt better. She scooped up some extra mud with a piece of bark so that Colonel O'Neill could reach the spots on her back for her. Then she filled the colonel's canteen -- her own had presumably made it back to the SGC without her -- and headed back to camp.
Her thoughts lingered on Colonel O'Neill's wound, and whether the honey would work. If it didn't, gangrene could set in and cost him the leg. Or a staph infection could spread to vital organs. She knew that dwelling on worst-case-scenarios didn't help, but worrying tended to get the better of her when her only option was to wait and see.
She found Colonel O'Neill standing a few yards away from their cover, studying the horizon. "Sir, you shouldn't be moving around."
"Some things can't be helped, Carter."
Once they settled back down in their hiding place, she handed him the bark full of mud.
"It's just what I've always wanted," he said. "How did you know?"
She laughed. "It's the closest thing we have to poultice, sir. Could you put some on the stings on my back?"
"Maybe it's just what I wanted after all," he said, so softly she barely heard him.
She tried not to notice the feel of his fingers moving against her skin. She really did. But she couldn't help but notice the way his breath hitched as he slid the fabric of her tank top out of his way.
"Maybe I should use some of that honey on these scratches." He touched her shoulder where she'd scraped it climbing out of the well.
She nodded, not trusting her voice to speak. If he was willing to make the excuse, she was willing to accept it, because for now this was all they could allow themselves. Duty. Honor. Fate of the galaxy. She could get stung by bees for him, he could share the last of his water with her, they could risk their lives and set each other's bones, but they had to leave the truth of the matter in rooms, and savor stolen touches, because the rest had to wait.
It always had to wait.
He finished, and took a breath, like he was about to say something. But he didn't. And for a long moment, they sat in silence.
"All done," he said quietly. An obvious statement, made to break the moment, because whatever he'd thought of saying, it belonged in that room with all the rest of it.
She turned around and settled down beside him.
He smiled a little sadly and held up his honey-covered fingers. "Got a napkin?"
She returned his smile, and even managed a real one when he threatened to wipe his hands on her pants, and then licked the honey from his fingers.
Carter's back. Thanks to one particularly memorable near-death-experience, Carter's back had played a starring role in Jack's fantasies for years. Those thoughts usually involved massage oil and a roaring fire, but the bit with the honey had potential.
He'd make a point of remembering it, for after they finally took down the goa'uld.
This very pleasant thought almost made up for the fact that as the sun rose in the sky, so did the temperature, and the nausea that had woken him up before dawn was not improved by this development.
Carter checked his wound again. "No change yet."
"Is that bad?"
"No, I think it's good. At least it's not getting worse. You should probably get some rest, sir."
"Rest," he said. "Right." He started to stretch out on the hard ground.
"No, sir." Carter patted her thigh. "Put your head here."
He stared at her.
"I know it's . . . a little warm," she said. "But you need to stay still, and you'll move around less if you're comfortable."
"Comfortable. Right." It wasn't like he'd never used her lap as a pillow, but usually he had to be a lot worse off than this to gain the privilege.
"Let me know if you feel chilled," she said.
"Chilled? Carter, I'm a little more worried that my brains will start dribbling out of my ears in this heat. Not that we'd miss them, but -- "
"Sir." She cut him off with a look he couldn't quite read, which was odd, because he could usually tell something of what she was thinking, even if he didn't always understand the mathematics behind it. "Just tell me if you feel feverish, okay?"
"Yes, ma'am," he answered, surprised at what seemed to be genuine annoyance in her voice. But he relaxed as she smiled again, and pressed her hand to his forehead.
"Get some sleep, sir."
Sam hated that. Colonel O'Neill was a brilliant man, and the jokes he made devaluing his own intelligence often rubbed her the wrong way. One of these days, she was going to snap and give him a piece of her mind, but she doubted she could do so without touching on forbidden subjects, so for now she let it go.
Everyone had little quirks that bugged those closest to them, and it was probably for the best if she didn't find all of his habits endearing anyway. The ones that did get to her were trouble enough, as this mission was very effectively demonstrating.
She had tried to give it up -- give him up -- but she'd clearly failed, possibly because her attempt had been half-hearted at best, and she honestly couldn't say she was sorry, although she did vow to redouble her efforts when it came to resisting temptation. Duty. Honor. Fate of the galaxy.
Her fingers had found their way into his hair. Doh. She moved them, slightly more appropriately, to his forehead.
He didn't feel feverish, and the red area around his wound had not grown any since she applied the honey. She assured herself that he'd be fine, and then tried to believe her own diagnosis.
The Jaffa were still out there, and they needed a plan. She reached for the map she'd found in the well, and studied it, trying to determine what, if anything, was located near the stream, and how they might find it.
She fiddled with the object she'd found wrapped in the map. It looked like a fairly unremarkable rock, and she suspected it had served to keep the map from sliding deeper into the crevice where it had been stored, but she kept it for Daniel, knowing he'd want the artifact kept as they'd found it.
Colonel O'Neill shifted and her eyes snapped to his face. He wore the slightest smile in his sleep. Those subtle smiles always got to her. They were genuine, and honest, just like the man himself. Even after all they'd seen, he could still smile at the little things, and thanks in part to his example, so could she.
That's why she knew they'd beat the goa'uld in the end.
She felt his forehead again. As long as his temperature remained consistent, she'd know the infection remained localized. She tried not to think about what she might have to do if it spread.
Jack woke to find Carter's hand clamped over his mouth, and she silently indicated that they had company. Peachy.
He sat up -- with painful effort -- and they crouched behind the bushes together, prepared to flee. They had sidearms, but gunfire would only alert others as to their location, and the Jaffa's armor always made them stubborn targets anyway.
Carter signaled her retreat plan, and he nodded.
They stayed low, slinking around the far corner of the bushes. Jack's leg protested this treatment, and he stumbled just enough to step on an inconvenient twig. The resulting crack compromised their position. "Doh."
"Yeah, yeah," Jack said.
Carter seemed to have a clue about where they were going, so Jack followed, determined not to land on his ass and get them both killed.
A staff blast kicked up dirt just behind them. Carter took a sharp left hand turn, jumped down an embankment, and turned around to offer Jack a hand down. As he landed beside her, she was already running again, dragging him by the hand as the Jaffa charged past in the opposite direction.
They probably had about thirty seconds before their pursuers caught on to their ploy, but he'd take it.
The new path led downhill, and they emerged from the woods to find a pond. The look on Carter's face told him that she had expected -- or at least hoped -- for something different.
Approaching shouts told them the Jaffa had turned back their direction. Jack looked around frantically, spotted some reeds, and dragged Carter into the pond. She pointed at his thigh, worried about the infection, but he shrugged. No choice.
They submerged themselves in water not quite deep enough for comfort, and littered with branches from the nearby woods. They used the reeds to breathe. An old trick, but hopefully one that would work again. After all, these guys were dumb enough to work for Ba'al.
He let his thumb slide over the back of Carter's hand, and she squeezed his fingers in reply. The urge to kiss her rose in his mind yet again. It really might have won him over this time, except that right now kissing would drown them both.
That was one way to control temptation.
They waited until their backs ached from crouching underwater, and then emerged slowly. Colonel O'Neill went first, barely lifting his head into the reeds before tugging her hand to indicate it was time to go.
She squeezed the water out of her hair, and caught him staring at her. "What?"
He smirked. "You're looking a bit bedraggled, Carter."
"Thanks, sir, but I bet you say that to all the girls."
"Just the hot ones," he answered.
Their eyes met, and locked. Damn, how'd they get here? "I need to . . . " She gestured vaguely. "For the map."
"Right," he said. "The map."
She turned away from those eyes, and jogged the hundred yards back to the rotting log where she'd stashed their scant possessions. Daniel would no doubt object to the way she'd treated the map, from which she now brushed a wide variety of insects.
At the moment, however, the comb of honey took priority. Fortunately, between the leaves she'd used and the remains of her tee shirt, it had remained more or less intact. They still had enough honey for a second application, assuming the pond water had rinsed away the first.
"The map gave the impression that we'd find a structure here." Sam studied it as they walked. "I wish I could make better sense out of it."
"It would help if we could read the language," Colonel O'Neill said. "Or had a clue about why it was made. For all we know, some kid used it to remember where he buried contraband in the woods, or to arrange a late-night tryst."
She found herself smiling at the thought. "I don't think so, sir. The well itself made a pretty good hiding spot for contraband, and a note would be enough to arrange a tryst."
"A note," he said. "I suppose that might work. Roses are red, violets are blue, how's makeout point, at quarter to two?"
"Then I'd assume he'd remember where he'd put it," she said. "It has to be something more. A map usually indicates the involvement of more than one person."
"Think this planet had a goa'uld resistance movement?"
"That would track with my theory, sir. A group with reasons to act covertly could have hidden weapons, or technology. I thought the map led to an armory. At least, that's what I was hoping."
She smiled sheepishly. "The symbols that I thought looked like staff weapons -- I think they were really cattails, sir."
They needed to find a place to treat his wound, and clean their sidearms. If they fired them now, they ran the risk of having a bullet stick in the chamber. Also, they were just guessing when it came to which direction the Jaffa had gone. Then there was the problem with the stargate.
All of these things were pretty important.
So why was it that Sam's mind kept returning to Colonel O'Neill, and specifically to the way his eyes held hers captive at the least appropriate moments?
It failed to qualify as a cave, technically speaking, but Jack called it one anyway. He'd never been one for speaking technically.
Carter got to work on his leg. "It looks like the honey worked, sir. The infection hasn't spread and the swelling even seems to be reduced."
"I told you."
"Even so, I -- "
Something caught his eye, and he grabbed her elbow. "Hold still."
"Yep, that's a leech."
She laughed. "That seems about right."
He scooted into a less awkward position to take care of it, and got a better look at her much-abused shoulder. "Make that leeches, plural."
"Don't squeeze it, sir," she said, still laughing softly. "You've got to flick it."
He slid his fingernail along her skin and gently nudged the working end of the leech sideways. He tried to notice that the leech was disgusting. He really did. But really all he noticed was the warmth of Carter's skin where his fingers closed around her arm, and how the softness of her skin defied all common sense, given the maze of scratches, scrapes, and welts she'd collected in the last two days.
The urge to kiss them better crossed his mind.
The leech let go as he flicked it again, and he slipped his finger under it, preventing it from feeding while he pried off the other end. "One down."
"Good," she said. Her voice sounded strained, and her skin trembled at his touch when he started the process on the next slimy little parasite.
He must have imagined that. Maybe he was nuts enough to enjoy this, but Carter had not just hitched her breath. He nudged the second leech, encouraging it to let go. His thumb brushed her shoulder blade, and against all common sense his imagination insisted on conjuring up Carter's little sound of fish-appreciation from the previous night.
Also definitely all in his head.
He tossed the second leech away. "Any more?"
"You'd better check." She shrugged off her tank top.
His brain short circuited.
"Sir? I think I feel something right about -- "
"I'm on it." He slid his hand down her smooth, muscular back and tried to ignore just how little clothing now impeded his view. It took a little more effort to free the third leech, mostly because his hand shook a little as he tried to get his fingernail under the larger sucker.
Carter jumped as it came loose.
"That . . . tickles, sir."
"Ticklish. Good to know." He smirked, and then nearly died as she smiled back at him, shaking her head. The blush that spread across her cheeks as she remembered her lack of attire -- now that was hot.
She replaced her tank top. "How about you, sir?"
"Not ticklish at all," he claimed. "But if you need proof -- "
"I meant the leeches, sir."
She turned around to face him, and caught his hand, turning it over to check his arm before sliding around behind him. "Sir, I need -- "
Carter, touching him, slipping his tee shirt up out of her way -- he was going to have dreams about this. Lots of dreams. Good ones.
Her hands slid up his back, and he had to fight to keep his breathing steady.
"There's just one," she said.
Absolutely ridiculous to be disappointed by that news.
She freed the leech. "Okay."
He turned around, and their eyes met. "That was . . . different."
She nodded in agreement, biting her lip in that way that drove him nuts, and just when he thought he'd lose it completely and actually kiss her, they both started laughing.
He tipped his forehead against hers, and squeezed her hand, which he found himself holding for no adequately explained reason. They shared a wry grin. It just figured that one of the very best moments of his entire life would involve leeches.
Sam found that cleaning her gun one-handed called for just enough concentration to provide at least something of a distraction. She needed one, because Colonel O'Neill had finished with his and returned to playing with his yoyo, and she found that unbearably attractive.
Inevitably he got the string tangled. He leaned forward, intently focused on the problem at hand as he carefully picked at the knot. Sam realized her gun deserved the same undivided attention, but failed to return to her task before Colonel O'Neill looked up and caught her grinning at him.
"We need a plan, sir."
"Stating the obvious." He spoke slowly, quietly, and with far too much understanding for Sam's comfort. "Something you want to tell me, Carter?"
She bit her lip, her failed attempt at covering leaving her with a loss for words. Or at least any words that wouldn't lead them further down the path to trouble. Maybe five minutes of honesty was something they needed after all of this time, but -- just but.
Colonel O'Neill's eyes fell on her sidearm. "Need help with that?"
She nodded, passing it to him, although they both knew she could handle the task just fine on her own. "I was thinking, sir. If they've discovered the problem with the gate, it's possible they've left it unguarded. We know they haven't found the artifact, and they've split their forces looking for us. Ba'al isn't known for his patience."
"Yep," he said. "We should probably check that out."
She relaxed again as equilibrium reestablished itself in the face of legitimate, mission-related discussion. Then she realized that she'd absentmindedly picked up his yoyo.
Jack watched Carter wind the string on the yoyo. He pretended to concentrate on cleaning her sidearm, but he couldn't seem to tear his eyes away as she slipped her finger through the loop in the string, and released the toy.
The yoyo dropped smoothly down the string, and rebounded into Carter's hand. That was hot. Or he was nuts. Probably both.
He finished with the sidearm. As much as he wanted to stay here and watch Carter play with the yoyo, they needed to get moving. He passed her the weapon. "Fish again?"
"Sounds good." She reached over to hand him the yoyo.
He took it, but her finger got caught in the string. "Hang on, Carter, I'll rescue you."
She laughed, and they were right back there again, grinning at each other. "Is it wrong that we're having such a good time?"
"No, not wrong. Deranged maybe." He couldn't seem to stop holding her hand.
"Demented," she agreed.
"This just goes to prove that we need a vacation. We've gone nuts."
"You're probably right, sir."
"Then it's settled." He wondered how long he could get away with holding her hand. "When we get home, we'll take some time off and go fishing."
Her smile grew. "I thought that's what we were going to do now, sir."
"Right," he said. "We should do that."
They headed back to the stream, alert for any sign of pursuing Jaffa. She took point, and he managed to keep the ogling to a minimum. Usually he could, when they were working. But today it felt like an accomplishment.
The fish cooperated well enough when they reached the stream. They crossed, and then put some distance between themselves and the water before stopping to cook their meal.
"I'll take KP if you cook again, sir." She treated him to that fantastic Carter smile.
"I'll tell you what," he said. "I'm such a generous guy, I'll do both."
Sam let out a quiet sigh of relief. Ba'al had left the stargate unguarded. "I'll start by rebooting the system," she said. "Maybe we'll get lucky."
"Oh, I'm sure it has to happen eventually, Carter."
"You can count on it, sir." She met his smirk with one of her own. "But first, let's see what we can do about the DHD."
He feigned innocence.
She settled down beside it while Colonel O'Neill stood guard, and opened it up. Once she located the master control crystal, she removed it, effectively cutting power to the system. "Now we wait. Two minutes should do it."
They waited with a shared impatience, and Sam scolded the small part of her that rooted against a successful reboot. As much as she'd enjoyed the fishing, and oddly enough the leeches, they needed to get back to the SGC. Her throbbing arm agreed.
The crystal slid back into place and she scooted backwards. "Try it now, sir."
"Nope," he reported. "Nothing. Nada. Zilch."
She sighed. Her next idea would take much longer.
Colonel O'Neill wandered around as she worked, scanning the trees for approaching unfriendlies. After a while, she noticed a distinct oddity in his pattern of movement.
"What is it, sir?"
He glanced at her and shrugged, so she climbed to her feet and joined him.
"Maybe I'm nuts, but -- " He pointed to the arrangement of rocks just to the right of the stargate. "I keep seeing those rocks, over there, but only if I stand exactly here."
He took her by the shoulders and steered her into position. "See it?"
For a moment, she found it difficult to notice anything but the tickle of his breath against her ear, and the press of his chest against her back, but then she saw it.
Jack watched Carter's face light up with the glow of scientific discovery. Good. Not only was that hot, it also meant he probably wasn't hallucinating from the heat. "So it's not . . . "
"All in your head?" She twisted around to meet his gaze. "No sir, it's real. I think what we're seeing is diffraction of light caused by some type of energy wave in the area. That must be what's blocking the communication between the DHD and the stargate."
"So how do we shut it off?"
"First we find it." She started walking slowly across the field. When he didn't follow immediately, she reached back and grabbed his hand.
He liked that part.
"See anything, sir?"
"What are we looking for?"
"Anything that looks odd," she said. "If we can triangulate the distortion field it should lead us to the source."
"You're the genius." He scanned the area for mirror images. "There. That clump of grass is bending into the wind."
She moved closer to him, and followed his gaze. "It's bending into itself."
They conducted a careful search of the area.
"It should be right here," Carter said. "Unless there's more than one distortion field, which would indicate -- There!"
Jack stooped down where she was pointing. "Where?"
"There's something there, sir. Here, use this." She handed him a stick, and he poked at the ground.
It hit something, and whatever it was rolled away, making the grass ripple around them. "Whoa."
Carter bent down and picked something up.
"Well don't touch it," he said, too late.
"It's the statue, sir. The one Daniel showed me before we left." She held up a much smaller version of the statue they had pushed through the hayfield. "See, this one has the etching of the bird that the larger statue lacked."
Jack peered at the tiny scratches on the statue. "I suppose that could be a bird."
"This is what we came for, sir. This is the technology that blocks stargate travel."
"Yep," he agreed. "There's just one small problem with that. Do you know how to shut it off?"
"Then we can't take it through the stargate."
Sam studied the sculpture in her hands. "If we move it far enough from the gate, we can probably dial out."
"We'll hide it," Colonel O'Neill said. "Down the well seems like a good spot."
"Or . . . "
"Or we don't use the stargate to leave the planet."
He nodded, a slow smile spreading across his face. "We take the al'kesh."
She grinned back. "Yep."
"Just the two of us," he said. "With sidearms."
He nodded. "You realize that's nuts, right?"
"Of course, sir."
"Then let's do it."
They watched the al'kesh from the trees. Three Jaffa patrolled the perimeter.
"Ba'al must know what that thing does," Jack said. "He knew we couldn't take it through the gate."
"Think it's a trap?"
"Could be." He searched the area for likely cover. "Then again, for all Ba'al knows, we could have a cloaked ship, and he doesn't know we have the artifact."
"We need a distraction," Carter said.
"I draw them off, then you steal the ship and ring me on board just in the nick of time?"
"Something like that. But maybe a little less suicidal?"
"We could throw a rock into those bushes over there, hope they follow it, and run."
She grinned. "I said less suicidal, sir."
"Okay," he said, a plan forming. "How's this?" He explained his idea.
Carter grinned. "You're a genius, sir."
They stumbled to the floor of the al'kesh, weapons fire ricocheting off the wall above their heads as the door closed. Jack found himself on top of Carter, his face inches from hers. Their eyes locked.
He could kiss her. He could lean in, his lips finding hers, and blame the circumstances. They'd pretend it never happened, but they'd have this one moment. He played with the temptation. They were so close, and she was looking right into his eyes. But they'd been here before, and he knew better.
Knowing better sucked.
He sighed, and closed his eyes on the tantalizing beauty that was Carter looking up at him from four inches away.
"Are you okay, sir?"
"Peachy." He rolled off of her. "Let's get out of here."
She climbed to her feet. "Cross your fingers, sir. If the artifact interferes with the navigation systems, we might not go anywhere."
He held his breath, but the craft rose smoothly and Carter took them out of the planet's atmosphere and plotted a course. "Now let's see if we have hyperdrive."
They did, and it was a tad bit twitchy, because it knocked them both off balance. For the second time in as many minutes, Jack found himself pressed up against Carter, this time with her pinned up against the bulkhead as their stolen ship flew through the stars. He could hear the hitch in her breath as her eyes met his, and she bit her lower lip in that way that drove him completely crazy.
Fate was screwing with him. If he didn't kiss her now, this would just keep happening until he did, and while that had a certain appeal, he knew that in the end, it would push him right over the edge.
He closed the gap between them, and she met him half way, her lips parting beneath his as her hand slid up into his hair.
The kiss was deep, bordering on desperate, because they both knew they could only have the one. They could pretend one never happened. Two though, two would be trouble. Part of his mind knew this. The rest just chanted, 'Carter, Carter, Carter,' as she melted into him.
He was kissing Carter. Sweet.
They needed air. The urgency of this built for several seconds before they acted on it, parting reluctantly to breathe, still holding each other, touching each other. But it had to end, and he stepped back.
He could still taste her. Not strawberries, or some other silly cliché, or even fire-roasted fish, but just Carter. And her eyes locked with his, every emotion they dared not speak mirrored there. He wanted her to know that he loved her. That he would always love her. But the words had to wait.
Her hand slid down his arm, gripping his fingers tightly for a moment before letting them go. "Sir, I should probably -- "
She stared at him, and a grin broke through even though her voice rang with regret. "Sir -- "
"Yeah, I know we have to save the world first. But after that?"
She grinned, nodding. "Yes."
He reached out and cupped her face in his hand, his thumb stroking her cheek as he memorized how beautiful she looked in this stolen moment. He wished he could kiss her one more time, but he really did know better. They couldn't have what they wanted, not now, but they could have this, and it was almost enough.
Sam smiled at Jack, amused by his good mood. Weeks had gone by since she'd last seen him, and truth be told it was driving her just a little bit crazy that he'd turned up without warning when they had to walk the professional tightrope.
Five minutes alone would have been nice.
Still, having him along offworld for old time's sake -- that had a certain appeal as well.
They headed up the ramp and stepped through the stargate.
Balloons, hundreds of them, floated above the bromegrass on what was decidedly not P2C-106. An al'kesh sat off in the distance, and folding chairs full of SGC personnel lined an aisle of white carpeting that ended at the base of the stargate. General Hammond, wearing dress blues, grinned at her from beside a flower-covered DHD.
She turned to Jack, who smirked at her.
"See Daniel?" Vala said. "She didn't suspect a thing. And you thought I'd spoil the surprise."
Daniel muttered something that Sam couldn't make out, but the laughter of the small crowd told her that everyone was in on this.
She shook her head, laughing as well, and stretched up to kiss Jack, because she suddenly found herself without a compelling reason to hold back. This elicited applause, and a whistle that she could only assume came from Vala.
Laughing, she pulled back and grinned up at Jack. "I'm not exactly dressed for a wedding."
"Our clothes are on the al'kesh," he said. "This planet's a little warm for formal wear, but I've got the solution for that." He leaned closer to whisper in her ear. "I also brought the honey."
She felt the heat rise in her cheeks, but two could play at this game. "You should have let me in on the secret. I would have brought the yoyo."
This transformative work constitutes a fair use of any copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. Stargate™©, Stargate SG-1™©, and related properties are Registered Trademarks of MGM Studios. No copyright infringement intended. No profits made here. © Spiletta42, May 2007.