by Rebecca Ratliff
DATE: August 2004
ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)
PAIRING: Jack/Sam, Jonathan/OC (Nancy)
CATEGORY: Romance, drama
SPOILERS: New Order, Icon, minor ones for Fragile Balance
SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season Eight, follows Icon. Gates of War series, follows Shadow Boxing. Previous stories in this series are archived at http://buckeyebelle.tripod.com/sg1/sg1index.html
SUMMARY: Sam and Jack, and Jonathan and Nancy, turn up at the cabin at the same time. Later, a deadly virus sweeps the Alpha site and Sam is infected.
DISCLAIMER: All Stargate SG-1 characters are the property of Stargate SG-1 Productions (II) Inc., MGM Worldwide Television Productions Inc., Double Secret Productions, Gekko Film Corp and Showtime Networks Inc.
I do not own Mall of America and the setting is used without permission. Thanks to Mall of America's website for background information. The part of the story which occurs there is purely fictional.
This story is for entertainment purposes only and no money exchanged hands. No copyright infringement is intended. Anybody that you don't recognize is probably mine, so if you borrow them please send me an email to let me know where they are and have them home by midnight. :)
FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.
Sam Carter turned the shower on as hot as she could stand it and scrubbed off the sweat and blood of the latest firefight. None of the blood was hers this time. They had all come home safe and Daniel was back where he belonged. The worst they had was her sore hand, which she dutifully rewrapped in an Ace bandage. Dr. Brightman didn't think she'd broken it again, but she'd still ordered her to keep it wrapped and avoid using it for a couple of days. With the weekend coming up, that meant she effectively wasn't going to get much accomplished until Monday.
After this latest thing she was about ready to tie them all together with bungee cords so that no one could get stranded anywhere. It was getting damn old. She toweled off and dressed quickly in clean BDU's, then gave her hair a thorough rubbing with a dry towel. She waited for them in the commissary.
Daniel had a large coffee and a muffin. He savored the coffee like it was ambrosia. He hadn't had coffee the whole time he was marooned on Tegalus.
Jack had been going over some stuff with Reynolds, Dixon and Ferretti. When they left, he came over to check on Daniel. "What did the doctor say about your eyes?"
"She thinks they're OK, but I have to see an opthamologist at Academy General tomorrow before she's going to clear me to come back to work."
"Sam, what's wrong with your hand?"
"It's just sore. I'm not supposed to use it for a couple days."
"You guys can use the down time anyhow," Jack said.
Daniel wasn't complaining about a long weekend. Sha're had been frantic, with him unconscious for so long. Everyone on Tegalus had been completely unable to see her no matter how she had tried to get their attention.
Teal'c had seized on the opportunity to visit friends and family off-world, and was leaving with the next exploration team within the hour.
Sam, on the other hand, looked bored already.
"Look on the bright side, at least you don't have to sit through a couple days of Pentagon meetings," Jack grumbled.
"Beats sitting around doing nothing," she replied in the same tone.
"Come with. You can help me get organized for the meetings and touch bases with your friends in DC, then we can spend the weekend at the cabin on the way home. And if you're there I can bring Jamie with me."
She perked up, grinning like the Cheshire cat when she realized she could actually say yes to a fishing invitation.
Daniel couldn't help it, he cracked up laughing at the look on her face. Even Teal'c was smiling--but then, he'd been doing that a lot more recently. Maybe it was the hair. Or maybe it was Ishta.
Jonathan put their backpacks in the back seat of his car while Nancy loaded the other stuff into the trunk. "I can't believe your parents are letting you come fishing with me."
Nancy said, "There's nothing we can do in Minnesota that we couldn't do right here in your apartment, except drown worms in a lake."
"Yeah, but it's kind of surprising that your mom and dad figured that out."
"I kinda had to spell it out," she grinned. "When I told Dad I wouldn't let you get any further than third base unless you proposed to me, he didn't want to get into any more details than that."
"And this is a problem, why?" She handed him their fishing rods and tackle boxes to put in the back seat. "We got everything?"
"Looks like." Jonathan whistled for Lassie, who jumped into the half of the back seat that wasn't full of stuff, and they were on their way. Then he asked with an evil grin, "So does this "unless" mean after we're engaged, or after we're married?"
"I haven't decided yet," she replied in the same tone.
Suddenly Jonathan thought about what she'd said to her father. "You told your dad we got to third base?!" Was that a squeak in his voice? No, couldn't be.
"That was not what I said," she corrected.
"It was what you implied." Jonathan thought, I am so dead.
"I told him we wouldn't go any farther than that. I didn't tell him we already had. I'm here, so stop complaining," she said.
"I was just wondering if I ought to get a bullet-proof vest before your dad sees me again."
Nancy laughed. "He likes you. As long as I'm happy, he's happy."
"Now that part is scary."
Sam had drowsed in the shotgun seat of their rented SUV most of the way from Minneapolis, but when Jack turned onto the dirt road that led to his cabin, the rough ride woke her up. She looked around at the deep woods surrounding them. "We must be almost there! Sorry I fell asleep. I didn't mean to be such lousy company."
"You're worn out, and vicodins always knock you out. How's the hand, by the way?"
"OK, the pills are still working."
"We're almost there. The lake's right around this next bend."
Jack couldn't have timed it better if he'd tried. The road ran along the east shore of the lake. Across the sparkling water, a fringe of evergreens rose into a glorious sunset. He stopped the SUV for a few minutes to enjoy the view. In the car seat behind them, Jamie slept, oblivious.
Sam said, "I can see why you love it here so much."
"I spent every summer here with my mom's parents when I was growing up," he said, his eyes distant in memory. Sam reached over to put her hand over his. After a while, he put the SUV back in gear and continued to the cabin.
They were surprised to see the lights on, then they recognized Jonathan's car. He and Nancy came out to see who it was.
Jack apologized, "I didn't know you were up here this weekend."
"We can take off. I left a message on your answering machine."
"No, you were here first. I was at the Pentagon since Thursday. We got Daniel back OK."
"That's a relief!"
Nancy said, "Really, we can get rooms at that little motel. We don't want to be in the way."
"No way, there's plenty of room," Jack said. "There's the sofa-bed and the loft."
Jonathan said, "Or we could pitch the tent."
Nancy said, "There's a tent? That would be great."
Jack could see they wanted privacy as much as he and Sam did. "We'll put it up while you and Sam take our things inside."
Thanks to her sore hand, Sam carried a few light things then took Jamie to explore and feed some bread crumbs to a goose that was hanging out around the boat dock, and to lay down the law that he was never, under any circumstances, to go near the lake unless an adult was with him.
The tent set up easily. Jack filled a kerosene lantern while Jonathan got the air mattresses and sleeping bags. "Where are Lydia and Alvin?"
"Lydia has band camp, and Maggie took Alvin and the girls to Six Flags."
Nancy called from the porch, "We're having bratwurst! Have you guys eaten?"
Sam replied from the SUV, "We had sandwiches at the airport, but I'll have one anyway!"
"Me too!" Jack called.
Nancy put the whole package on the grill because she figured once Jonathan and Jack got into them, they'd disappear pretty fast. Sam watched them while Nancy moved some of her things out to the tent. Nancy told her, "Better get some mosquito repellent. These things are big enough to fly off with you!"
"Teal'c warned me about them!" Sam found the bug spray and applied it liberally, a little awkwardly working left-handed, before returning to the grill.
Jack brought the cooler up on the porch and fished out a can of beer. "Sam?"
"No thanks, not on top of vicodins!" She laughed. "I'd sleep through the whole weekend!"
"We have lemonade. Isn't that the same hand you broke?" Nancy asked. "What happened?"
"We got into it with some people getting Daniel back. I didn't have time to baby it. It's just bruised and sore, I didn't quite break it again this time." She had got containers of potato salad and baked beans out of the cooler and took the beans inside to heat them up, and helped herself to a tall glass of lemonade while they were on the stove.
Jack brought a couple more chairs out on the porch. They shared a long, lazy supper watching the stars come out over the lake. To Jack and Jonathan both, life didn't get any better.
Sam held Jamie's hand as they stared into the water off the end of the small boat dock. She asked, "So are there really no fish in this lake?"
Both Jack and Jonathan insisted there were, much to everyone else's amusement.
Sam started falling asleep again pretty much as soon as she sat down. Jack said, "We'd better get you inside before you fall out of that chair."
Jonathan said, "We started the generator when we got here, so there should be plenty of hot water."
Sam got her shower and fell into bed, out like a light as soon as her head hit the pillow. Jack put Jamie in the back bedroom which Jonathan had vacated. Nancy decided to call it a night soon after. Jack and Jonathan sat up for a while after that.
The full moon hung over the lake, pale silver shining through the black silhouette of a huge old pine tree on the far shore. Jack remembered long lazy afternoons so long ago, spent playing and daydreaming in the shelter of its low-hanging branches. It occurred to him that Jonathan had those same memories.
"It's getting pretty serious between you and Nancy, isn't it?"
"Yeah." Jonathan skipped a flat stone across the still water to cover his embarrassment. Somewhere an owl hooted.
"Jonathan, you're sixteen. Being stuck with my memories doesn't change that. It's OK, you and her."
"I wonder how OK it would be if her folks knew."
"She knows, right?" Jack asked.
"That's what matters. What did she say?"
Jonathan grinned, thinking about that kiss she'd laid on him, right in front of Alvin and Lydia. "She yelled a little because I hadn't told her sooner, but that was all." He still couldn't believe his luck at his friends' simple acceptance.
"Jonathan, what are you going to do when you graduate?"
"Are you sure that's what you want?"
Jonathan realized the question was, is the Air Force really what you want? "I'm sure. There isn't anything else I want to do! They'd let me skip the academy if I wanted to, but I don't think that's a good idea. It's a lot more than just the classwork."
"I think that's a good choice. There's a lot of things I don't know that I get away with because I'm a 51-year-old general. Nobody's gonna cut you that kind of slack. And you're right, it's more than the book-learning. I made lots of connections coming up through special forces, but you'll be going right into the SGC. You know what a private club it is. You can make your contacts at the Academy if you play your cards right. You'll need a lot going for you career-wise when folks hear you're my kid brother."
Jonathan grinned. Jack's maverick reputation would follow him, he knew, but it wouldn't take him long to make his own reputation. "Something else I'll have to do is take flying lessons. I was thinking about sending Nancy to flight school for her birthday, if her parents think it's OK."
"She'll love that. It won't be so boring doing it over if you're helping her study. Hey, you know, I bet Harlan Beck gives flight lessons."
"Yeah, he probably does. I told him a big story about being your nephew, though, now we'd have to explain being brothers."
"Why'd you tell him that?"
"Tried to get him to buy me some beer," Jonathan admitted, red-faced.
"I wish I'd seen that," Jack snorted. "Just tell him nobody ever believes we're brothers because you're so much younger."
Jonathan nodded. There was no one he'd trust more to teach Nancy to fly than Harley.
Soon after that, they called it a night. Jonathan went inside to shower, then headed for the tent. He found Nancy sitting cross-legged on her sleeping bag reading. She put the book down and smiled as he came in. He checked that the tent flap was zipped all the way, otherwise the mosquitoes would get in. Then he turned out the lantern.
"Jonathan, I was thinking. Maybe we should go to Mall of America tomorrow instead of the day after. Jack and Sam only have one day here and they'd probably appreciate the privacy."
"Good idea," Jonathan agreed.
Nancy laughed. "They have a submarine. In a mall."
"So I've heard. And an amusement park."
"Jack's never been there?"
"It wasn't here when Jack lived in Minnesota."
"Oh. Right. Yeah."
"Don't worry about it--we get confused sometimes!" Jonathan snickered.
They listened to the crickets for a while. Nancy had never been anywhere that was so quiet before, with no cars and no noise from neighboring houses. She asked, "Are you still in love with Sam?"
The question knocked Jonathan for a loop, but Nancy deserved an honest answer. "Jack's the one who's in love with her. When I thought I was him--walking away from her was the hardest thing I ever did. But now, I know what I was feeling...wasn't me. I'll always love her as a friend, but I'm not the one who's in love with her. It sure looks like she's gonna be my sister-in-law, and that's how I think of her now."
"I can't even imagine how hard it must be for you sometimes."
"It was, Nancy. More than a year ago. I know who I am now. There's a big difference between Jack's memories and mine."
"Exactly what constitutes third base, anyhow?"
She laughed. "I haven't decided that yet, either."
Jack got his shower and got ready for bed, quietly, so he wouldn't wake Sam or Jamie. But he heard Sam's sleepy voice from her bedroom, calling his name.
He opened the door a crack. "Yeah, it's just me. Sorry I woke you. Go back to sleep."
"Where are you going to sleep?"
"On the sofa bed."
"Well, if you really want to...."
"Are you sure?"
"I don't bite," she laughed, holding up the blankets for him.
Jack asked her again, "Are you sure?"
She smiled radiantly in the moonlight, wide awake now, and his heart skipped a beat as he read the answer in her eyes before she said a word. "I can't imagine a better time and place," she said. "Now I know why you love it here so much. I feel like I've come home."
"I know I have. I love you, Sam. Where ever you are, I'm home." He came into her arms and settled himself next to her, holding her close. She giggled and the same thought occurred to both of them.
"No, that isn't my sidearm," he laughed.
"Well, I sure am glad about that," she replied.
They were familiar enough with kisses and caresses that they were past the awkward, elbows-in-the-way stage, but so far they had confined themselves to making out on the couch--and going parking a couple of times when they had made a beer run to escape from a houseful of loved ones. Jack had been cautious, maybe overly so, but he hadn't wanted to rush Sam in any way after she had been kidnapped by Fifth. He didn't know if any of the illusions that the replicator had put her through had been sexual in nature--she hadn't said if they were--but he still wanted to be sure she was ready. This was the first time they had gone to bed together.
They were both nervous at first. It had been a few years for both of them, and they had been anticipating this night for so long. Neither of them was young any more. They were both combat veterans and had the scars to prove it. Sam was a little self-conscious about that until Jack deliberately traced his fingertips over the worst of them, a staff burn that had healed with a large, uneven raised scar. "Bet that still pulls."
"Not if I rub lotion into it every day," she replied. "It used to."
"When did you get this one?"
"That isn't a staff burn. I had to lay my bike down a few years ago. I was lucky to walk away from it with road rash." She touched a mysterious line of little scars around his neck. "Now I can't figure these out."
"Barbed wire. Iraq."
"Oh," Sam said, still clueless but unwilling to pry into things he never talked about.
O'Neill was determined not to repeat the mistake he'd made with Sara, shutting her out of the less savory parts of his life while trying to protect her. It had driven a wedge between them, and when they lost Charlie, the distance had proven too great. He couldn't lose Sam the same way. He explained, "They ran an electric current through it. It hurt worse where the barbs dug in."
She kissed the marks, as if she could kiss away remembered pain. In a way, she did--with her in his arms, he could face the memory head-on and move on to much more pleasant things.
"Now this is interesting....Carter, how long have you had a bellybutton ring?" In all these years, how the hell had he missed that?! Probably because, except for her bracelet, she rarely wore jewelry of any kind while she was on duty. He played with the little gold ring.
She giggled. "About ten years."
"You're just full of surprises," he replied.
Soon all doubt and hesitation fled. They gave themselves to one another freely and completely as sweet, tender lovemaking gave way to a passionate intensity that burned with seven years' raw need. If it had been the universe's destiny to be frozen in amber, for that one moment to go on forever, they would have been content.
Afterwards, they were in no hurry to leave each other's arms. Sam was startled and embarrassed to find herself crying for relief and joy, that they were alive and together after everything that had happened, after all that had conspired for so long to keep them apart. Jack kissed away her tears and might have shed a few himself. "Sam, will you marry me?"
"We can't have a big ceremony here, but what if we got married off-world?"
Intrigued, she asked, "Is that even legal?"
"Yeah, it is. Daniel and Sha're were considered legally married." Jack had to shift his weight to ease his back. Sam snuggled close and her warm hand found the sore spot. "I could so get used to this," he sighed quietly.
"Me too," she grinned. "I wonder if Teal'c knows a justice of the peace out there somewhere?"
"I don't know, but I'm gonna find out when we get back to Colorado." In spite of himself, Jack yawned hugely.
Sam smiled. "Good night, Jack."
He kissed her. "'Night, Sam." They fell asleep still holding each other.
Lassie woke everyone up early the next morning, barking her head off. The dog was nose to nose with the boat dock goose, whose raucous honking added to the racket the dog was making. Sam pulled her tank top over her head and found her denim shorts under the chair. Once she was decent she stuck her head out the window to see what all the noise was about.
Jonathan crawled out of the tent and sailed a pine cone at the goose, which only served to make it flap its wings and honk all the louder. A minute later, Nancy appeared as well. "Oh, for God's sake! I thought it was supposed to be quiet up here!"
By then, everyone including Jamie was awake. They took quick turns in the shower to save on the limited hot water, and Jack made pancakes for breakfast. Jonathan came out of the bathroom toweling his hair. "We're going to the Mall of America today. Do you think Jamie would like it?"
Jack said, "Oh, he'd love it. Are you sure you guys want to drag him along with you all day? He'll get tired and cranky if you don't stop and let him rest every so often."
Nancy said, "We don't mind. I like the kids' rides--it helps to have a kid along!"
"Sure, just don't let him eat cotton candy or he'll be sick as a dog."
Jonathan remembered the day a couple of weeks ago at the county fair when they'd discovered that. "No problem! I'm gonna leave Lassie here. Her food's in a plastic thing in the tent. Do we need to have Jamie back any certain time?"
"Not really, we'll head back whenever you get in and catch the next flight out."
Jack and Sam went out in the yard and saw the three of them off right after breakfast. Sam grinned, "Looks like we have the place all to ourselves."
Lassie curled up on the porch. Apparently she had lost interest in the goose.
Jack put his arm around her shoulders. "Looks like."
"So, are there really fish in that lake?"
"Of course there are. Plenty of time to worry about that later, though."
"Oh, really? Did you have something else besides fishing in mind?"
Jack wanted to keep that picture of her forever--flyaway golden hair shining in the early morning sun, eyes sparkling blue, her teasing tone floating on the evergreen-scented breeze. "I could think of a few things."
He swung her up in his arms. She shrieked with laughter and said, "Jack, your knees--put me down, you crazy Irishman!"
He grinned. "My knees are fine!" And they were--with the cabin only a few steps away.
The dog raised her head to try to figure out what was up with their antics, but when they went inside, she rested her chin back on her paws and thumped her tail on the floor a few times.
It was after a late picnic lunch when they made it out onto the lake. Sam did more sunbathing than fishing. She rarely had time to just enjoy the sunshine, or get anything but her face and hands tanned. She reflected that she was going to have to keep an eye out that Jack got a weekend off now and then. Now that he was relaxed and rested, she realized how tired he'd looked recently. Daniel's latest misadventure certainly hadn't helped. For so long, Jack had taken care of them all, and never more so than now. As his fiancee, she could make it her business to take care of him.
She suddenly missed her mother more than she had in years. She wanted to ask her how she had taken care of a stubborn, temperamental career Air Force man, more often than not in spite of himself. Sam knew all about being an Air Force officer, but she was going to have a lot to learn about being an Air Force wife.
Jack asked quietly, "What were you thinking about?"
"We talked about getting a weekend place close to the Springs, and I really think we should," she replied. "Don't get me wrong, I love this place. It's just that we probably won't be able to get up here more than a couple times a year."
"I still think that's a good idea," Jack agreed. It would be nice to have a little getaway a short drive from town, so that when some unexpected free time came up they could just jump in the truck and go. "You're getting sunburned," he observed.
Sam reached for her sunscreen, and got him to put some on her back.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his fishing rod jerk, and grabbed for it. And overbalanced the boat, dumping them both in the lake!
Sam came up, gasping for air--even in summer that water was cold! "Jack?!"
His head came up ten feet away. "I had a bite!"
She threw back her head and laughed at the surprise in his tone. He had always sworn there were fish in the lake, but he had been as startled as everyone else to actually find one.
He swam over and pulled her close in a long kiss, that ended only when they literally had to come up for air. Jack's favorite rod and reel had sunk and he wasn't leaving without it. Sam wasn't hopeful of finding it in the cold and dark, but by sheer luck she happened upon it after a few dives.
Sam grabbed onto the overturned boat to catch her breath. "I can't believe how cold this water is in August!" She laughed.
"It gets really deep past that big rock. The only place that's warm enough to enjoy swimming is near the cabin, because it's fairly shallow there." Jack explained. "We're going to have to come up here in winter some time. We lived on ice skates all through Christmas vacation when I was a kid."
Between fits of laughter, they swam the boat into shallower water where they could get it turned right side up and bailed out. Nearly everything floated, so they rowed around until they found it all.
By then they were both chilled clear through in spite of the warm sun. They headed for shore to get warm in a hot shower, and that led to other things. Eventually they found dry clothes. Sam fixed a pot of coffee while Jack cleaned the grit out of his fishing reel.
Sam looked up from the table at the loft, which ran the length of the cabin over the two downstairs bedrooms. This part was a log cabin, unlike the clapboard addition where the bathroom was located. "How long has this cabin been here?"
"My great grandfather built it in the late 1800s when he got married. It was his parents who came over from Norway, he was the oldest son and the first one of their kids born here. The first cabin was about a quarter of a mile on around the lake. The chimney's still there."
"So you really have roots here."
"Oh, yeah. Mom never liked Chicago and neither did I. She used to send me up here to stay with my grandparents over summer vacation and most of the time over Christmas break as well. Grandpa used to run a sawmill down on the main road, and I'd help out."
"Do you have any family left around here?"
"Not really, I still have some shirt-tail cousins but I haven't seen them since God knows when. My grandparents have been gone for a long time now. Dad was a cop, he was killed in the line of duty while I was in 'Nam. Mom's been gone for more than ten years now."
Sam gave a sympathetic nod. She understood about being alone in the world. Her relationship with her father had been strained, to put it politely, from the time her mom had died until Selmac had come along--and then, although the two of them had got along a lot better after Selmac had nagged Jacob to mend fences with both of his kids, their duties had kept them apart. She and her brother Mark had spells of distant amicability punctuated by the occasional shouting match, usually stemming from Mark's anti-military attitudes. They had both made more of an effort since Mark's kids had been born, but they would never be best friends.
She brought two cups of coffee and sat down beside him.
"Sorry I dumped you in the lake," Jack apologized--with a devilish glint in his dark eyes that gave the lie to the apology.
Sam giggled. "I'm sorry I made you lose your fish!"
"He'll be there the next time." Jack welcomed the hot coffee. Ever since Antarctica, the first time, he hated being cold. Getting his feet frost-bitten on that ice-age planet year before last had definitely not helped. And of course then there was the Ancient's "dolmata" thing, which was just a fancy Ancient word for deep freezer, as far as he was concerned. Even though common sense told him there was no way he should still be feeling chilled from their little swim, he still was. Some memories let go easier than others.
Sam put her hand on his arm, and when he looked, there was all the warmth he needed shining in her eyes. Neither of them said anything, and after a moment he went back to cleaning the reel. But when she stood to take some burgers out to the grill a little while later, that warmth stayed with him.
After he finished, he joined her on the deck. Lassie was wide awake because she knew one of those burgers was for her. He scratched her ears. "I hope Jamie hasn't been giving Jonathan and Nancy too much trouble!" He laughed.
Sam laughed. "You can keep up with a three-year-old easier at their age!"
Jonathan would have disagreed with her. From the instant they set foot inside the mall, Jamie had been a little dynamo, anxious to look at everything at once. He and Nancy had somehow got their school shopping done by taking turns keeping an eye on the boy while the other bought something. It was very crowded with what seemed like millions of tourists as well as local people also occupied with school shopping. When they came across a kids' shop, Nancy couldn't resist getting Jamie a couple of cute new outfits. At first Jonathan rolled his eyes. "He's not a Barbie doll!"
"I never said he was, but look at that," Nancy grinned. The shop had a display of Halloween costumes out and one of them was a pint-sized set of BDU's.
"Oh, for cryin' out loud." He shook his head, but asked the salesgirl, "Do you have any of these that would fit him?"
She said, "I don't know. We've been having a lot of trouble keeping those in stock this year." She helped him look through the display and they found one at the bottom of the stack.
Jonathan looked around and saw that Jamie had dragged Nancy over to a display of cartoon character tee shirts. She helped him pick out a couple, and got him a pair of jeans that fit a little loose on him.
After that they put all the stuff in the car and went back in to have some fun. They headed for Camp Snoopy, the amusement park in the center of the mall. All three of them had a blast taking Jamie on the rides--he insisted on riding the log flume three times. And then they bought souvenir tee-shirts and towels!
Nancy came out of the ladies' room, wearing her dry shirt although Jonathan hadn't been in any hurry for her to change out of the wet one. She held out a plastic shopping bag for Jonathan and Jamie's wet things.
They moved out of the way of a big Scandinavian-looking family who had also discovered the t-shirt stand near the log ride. "Are you guys hungry yet?"
"Starving," Jonathan replied. "I saw a steak house earlier."
"Sounds good to me."
Jamie said, "I wanna go on the ride again!"
Jonathan told him, "Steakhouses have fries this big. Like O'Malley's back home."
Nancy giggled. "Besides, after we eat and get off our feet for a while, we're gonna go see the sharks. Remember the sharks on Animal Planet last week?"
"And the *oc'aput!*"
Jonathan grinned. "I think that mighta been an octopus, kiddo. I don't know if they have any here, but if they do, we'll hope they're out where you can see 'em."
"He squirted all kinds of black stuff at the guy!"
"Yeah, they do that. That's how they hide and get away from something that wants to have 'em for supper."
"Was the guy gonna eat him?" Jamie asked.
"I don't think so, not on Animal Planet," Jonathan snickered. "The octopus didn't have any way of knowing that."
With Jamie walking hand-in-hand between them, they made their way through the crowd toward the steak house on the east side of the park. Nancy admired the landscaping, the flower beds were beautiful and there were even hundreds of trees. "I'll bet this is really nice in the wintertime."
Jonathan said, "It's nice all year around for whoever does all this gardening. Shirt-sleeve weather no matter what it's doing outside."
They reached the Stampede Steakhouse and found a long line. Jonathan put their names down for a table in the non-smoking section and took the pager that the hostess offered. When he got back to the others, Jamie was getting his picture taken with Snoopy, while Nancy paid for the pictures and told Snoopy's helper where to send them. Then they found a park bench and sat down to wait for their table.
Jamie lay down across both their laps and took a little nap, trusting them so completely that he was oblivious to the crowd passing by them. Jonathan and Nancy appreciated the chance to sit down and rest for a while. It had been a long day.
After lunch, they went to see the aquarium. Jonathan found the glass tunnels under the aquarium claustrophobic. He couldn't help thinking how easy it would be for a crack in the glass to drown them all. Jamie, however, had eyes only for the sharks and other sea life swimming all around them. "Jonathan, why don't the sharks chomp all the other fish?"
"'Cause they keep them pretty well-fed, I guess! Nobody wants hungry sharks around." Jonathan watched one that looked as big as he was swim by. It looked straight at him. Nancy watched in amusement as two predators sized each other up, and mutually decided "you're over there, and I'm over here, and let's just keep it that way."
After Jamie announced that he was thirsty and they searched for a water fountain, they spotted a crowd of kids lined up around the edge of a shallow pool. Inside was an aquatic petting zoo. A young woman was telling the kids about the critters. A small shark was, of course, the star of the show. Jamie wanted to visit every single one...of course.
Jonathan went to the men's room. When he got back, Nancy was rubbing a blister on her foot.
"Nancy? Where's Jamie?"
Her head shot up. "Didn't he go to the bathroom with you?"
"No, he was right over there. Jamie!"
Her sore foot forgotten, Nancy looked at him in horror then jumped up and started searching from the other end of the crowd. After only a few moments, the aquarium keepers were enlisted in a quickly widening search.
Meanwhile, Jamie was on his way back to the tunnel to see the sharks again, when he happened upon a door that had not quite closed and locked behind the last person through. He found himself at the foot of a metal staircase and climbed.
It came out onto a wonderland of catwalks over the huge aquarium tanks. Jamie discovered that he could see right down through the metal mesh walkway. There was a really fishy smell, but he really didn't mind that. His dad had taken him fishing lots of times and the bait store always smelled like that. Just a few feet below him, a triangular fin broke the surface.
Laughing, he sat down to watch the shark swim. He had no idea that this was where the aquarium keepers fed the sharks, so naturally the creature associated movement on this walkway with lunch. All he knew was that he had just been petting a shark, and here was an even bigger one that he could pet.
He reached down through the railings, and all of a sudden everything happened at once. Just as the shark lunged at his hand, Jamie found himself snatched up into the air by a pair of strong arms. The shark's teeth snapped closed on thin air.
"Damn it, Jamie, don't you ever run off from me like that again! That shark could have taken your whole hand off!"
That was the first time Jamie had ever seen Jonathan really mad at him. He started crying and Jonathan held him tight. He was shaking in reaction. If he'd been just one second slower--!
Two white-faced aquarium keepers pelted across the walkway. "Is he okay?"
"Yeah, but how did he get in here? Why the hell don't you keep that door locked?"
"It is supposed to be locked! Are you sure he's okay?"
They all inspected Jamie's arm. There wasn't a scratch on him.
Nancy said, "Jonathan, I'm so sorry. I thought you'd taken him with you, I swear."
"It's okay, it isn't your fault! Kids can disappear so damn fast." Jonathan dried Jamie's tears, but then set him down and looked him in the eye. "Jamie, do you know what you did wrong?"
"Goin' off by myself," he sniffed. "I didn't mean to."
Jonathan said, "It wouldn't have mattered if you meant to, if you'd got yourself bitten! You scared the hell out of me!"
"I'm sorry, Jonathan."
"The important thing is, you're OK, and you learned a couple of lessons. Don't wander off, and don't ever pet any animal unless you have permission first. Sharks aren't the only things that can bite you!"
He nodded. Jonathan held his little nephew tight for a long moment and tried to quiet his racing heart. He had a nightmarish flash of a bloody stump where Jamie's hand had been, and of trying to explain such a dreadful accident to Jack.
Nancy saw how pale he was and steered them back out into the public area of the aquarium. "It's OK, he's fine."
Jonathan gulped hard, and got himself under control. "Yeah."
"Mom never gets tired of showing people this embarrassing picture she took the time I got lost at the Ren Faire when I was about Jamie's age. She found me curled up asleep in one of the market stalls. The girl there had put this little princess dress on me and she was using me for a mannequin while she waited for my family to show up to claim me."
"At least you didn't go sticking your hand in the dragon's cage," Jonathan wisecracked.
"No, the only animal that ever bit me is my cousin Parker's rotten little Chihuahua," she said. By the time they reached the mall exit, she had both Jamie and Jonathan calmed down and even laughing at the stories she was telling on herself. She hoped she never again saw Jamie in such danger, or Jonathan so pale with terror.
Jack and Sam had their bags packed and sitting by the door when they heard Jonathan's car pull in. They were enjoying a last cup of coffee on the deck before heading back to Minneapolis to catch a flight home. Sam sighed, the break from the pressure cooker that was the SGC had been good but it was over much too soon.
They knew something had gone wrong as soon as Jonathan came around the side of the cabin. Jack asked, "What's the matter? Is Jamie OK?"
"Yeah, he's fine. He just scared the livin' crap out of us," his brother replied, running a long-fingered hand through his unruly brown hair in a gesture that was so "Jack" that Sam had to suppress a giggle.
"What did he do?"
Jonathan explained what had happened, offering no excuses or alibis. Nancy and Jamie got there before he had finished. Nancy looked just as subdued and shame-faced as Jonathan.
Jack told Jamie, "Go to your room, mister. We're gonna have a talk about this."
"Yes, Dad." Jamie had learned not to argue with Jack's no-nonsense tone, and did as he was told.
"Hey, guys, this wasn't your fault. Nobody can watch a kid 24/7. They get into mischief, it's what they do. I'm just glad you were there. From the sound of things, I probably couldn't have run up that stairway fast enough to grab him. What I want to know is what the hell that door was doing unlocked."
"It was a freak thing, the door was set up to lock whenever anyone closed it and you have to swipe your card to get in. But for some reason it wasn't closing all the way. It probably just happened a few minutes before Jamie came along and found it."
Nancy said, "Thank God Jonathan realized it was open part way. It all happened so fast--" Now that they were home and the adults were in charge, she was able to react, and her eyes filled with tears. "I was so scared, that shark was right there and I thought--oh, Lord, I thought the damn thing had got him."
Jack couldn't suppress a shudder. "You're sure he's okay?"
Jonathan nodded and put a comforting arm around Nancy. "Oh, yeah, he had both of us, and the aquarium people, making sure. There isn't a scratch on him."
"Remember that time we decided to explore the el track? The look on that transit cop's face." Sam grinned a little at the "we."
"I remember the bustin' when Dad got home," Jonathan grimaced. "Don't go too hard on him, Jack. We already yelled ourselves hoarse at him, and I'm pretty sure he learned his lesson the hard way about wandering off and messing with other people's...uh...pets."
"I sure as hell hope so. I don't want him to be afraid to explore--but he needs to learn some plain old common sense sooner rather than later. Petting a shark--Jesus Christ!"
Nancy said, "They had a little, tame one in the show and tell thing that all the kids could pet. So I guess when he saw the big one, h-he just jumped to the conclusion that it would be OK to pet it, too."
Jack nodded. On the one hand, he could understand exactly how it had happened. Kids did things like that, and he knew Jonathan and Nancy well enough to be sure they hadn't been careless. But, on the other hand, he kept flashing back to the gunshot, and Charlie lying in a pool of blood. Once again, he took a deep breath and reminded himself that Charlie's accident hadn't really been the end of the road. Sirikat was fine. Knowing that didn't do away with the sick feeling he had at just how close Jamie had come today. He could have died. He'd have made one little bite for a shark. And he could have died even if the shark hadn't eaten him whole. Jack had seen a guy--a grown man--die of shock just from shooting his toe off. You could bleed to death real easy if you lost a hand, never mind going into shock.
Jack knew he would never survive losing another child. But there was no way on God's green earth that anyone could really protect their children, not without turning them into prisoners.
He helped Jonathan take down the tent, to give himself time to calm down as well as to give Jamie a chance to think about it. When he came back inside, Jamie was curled up on his bed with Bear, his favorite teddy.
"Are you still mad at me, Daddy?"
"Jamie, I was scared to death. Sticking your hand in that damn aquarium was just plain stupid! You know what I was just thinking? I can protect you from the bad guys, but I can't protect you from yourself. You have to think before you do stuff. I know this is a lot for a little kid to take in. But the world can be a really mean place, and you just aren't big enough yet to take it on by yourself." Hell, Jack knew some certain adults who regularly got themselves in trouble by poking into things better left alone.
"I was scared. It came up out of the w-water. Then Jonathan grabbed me. He was mad."
"People usually do get mad when you scare them," Jack said.
"We yell because we all love you and we'd rather just about anything happened than to see you get hurt. Son, you already had your time out, so I'm not going to punish you any more this time. I think you already got punished enough when that shark jumped out at you. But if you ever do something like this again, there's gonna be some consequences."
Jamie sounded so much like a pint-sized airman that Jack had to really work at keeping a stern expression. He held him tight for a long moment. "Come on, squirt, let's get our stuff in the truck and get on the road. We have a long drive back to Minneapolis ahead of us."
Jonathan and Nancy watched the SUV pull out a little while later. Nancy sat down and leaned her head back, eyes closed. She gave a big, heartfelt sigh of relief. "Jonathan, please tell me you don't want any of those for at least five or ten years."
"Any of what?"
He laughed. "Five or ten years sounds about right to me."
"I've never been so scared in my life. Not even when we killed that alien. That I knew what to do about. I hope I didn't put my parents through anything like that," Nancy said fervently.
"If you had, you'd know about it. It would be one of those family stories--you know, the ones they tell on you every time the whole tribe gets together. Jamie's never gonna live it down. He's gonna always be the one who stuck his hand in the shark tank." Jonathan was still a little shaky, but he could laugh about it now.
She laughed too. "Yeah, he will at that."
"Let's get some sleep. It's been a long day."
Nancy fixed some hot chocolate and they sat in the darkened cabin watching the stars come out over the lake. Lassie curled up at their feet, her tail occasionally thumping on the braided rug. Jonathan closed his eyes, and for a moment he was home. He could still hear the soft clicking of his grandma's knitting needles and his grandpa's baseball game playing on the old black plastic radio that used to sit on the end table by the couch. Nothing was ever that simple now, for Jack or himself either one.
He reached down to scratch Lassie's ears and reflected that complicated wasn't necessarily a bad thing. After all was said and done, Jamie was fine and he'd learned an important, if terrifying, lesson about the need for common sense. Jonathan and Nancy had the rest of the week ahead of them, and he was determined not to allow the near miss to ruin the rest of their vacation.
By the time Jack got to the airport, Sam and Jamie had both been sleeping soundly for the last hour. Sam yawned and got out of the SUV and stretched when he woke her. Jamie slept all the way through security and didn't wake up until they were ready to board the plane, even sleeping through his shoe inspection at security. The flight attendants brought drinks and peanuts shortly after takeoff.
About halfway home they hit some turbulence. Jack was like a lot of other pilots, he hated being a passenger--especially with Sam and Jamie sitting next to him, with their destiny as well as his own in someone else's hands.
Sam had been dozing, but the rough flight woke her. "What's up?"
Jack had been keeping a rough estimate of their position and heading from the stars. "I think they've diverted us north a ways, must be flying around some weather."
"I don't think they got all the way around it," she replied.
She was proven right when plane dropped suddenly. Somebody in the back of the plane screamed and there was a lot of nervous laughter as they leveled off again.
Jamie asked, "Daddy, what happened?"
"We hit an air pocket and the plane dropped down. Now we're climbing back up to altitude again."
A flight attendant checked that they were buckled in. It was a long, tiring ride back to Colorado Springs, not least of all because Jamie got air sick. The flight attendant brought him some crackers to nibble, and that settled his stomach, but he still wasn't happy with the bumpy ride.
It was pouring down rain when they caught a cab home. Jack called the base and left word with the officer of the day that they would be late coming in that morning, and found out that Sirikat had stayed at the mountain that night. Jamie hardly noticed being put to bed. Jack and Sam had a quick breakfast of eggs and toast, then they settled down for a few hours' rest before they had to go out again.
Nancy woke up with the morning sun streaming through the window. She found coffee already made and warmed it up, then looked out on the dock. Jonathan was out there fishing already, with Lassie lying beside him watching the goose.
She wondered what was up with that goose. She remembered reading somewhere that geese mated for life. Where was her mate, and for that matter, where were the rest of her flock? She didn't seem hurt, not with the brazen way she lorded it over the dog. She giggled as the goose stuck her butt in the air and dunked her head to get something to eat.
Jonathan heard her laugh and turned around. "Hey! Good morning, sleepyhead."
"That's what vacations are for," she replied. "I just heated up the coffee. Do you want some?"
She brought two mugs out and sat on the dock. There was still a little mist in the chill morning air.
A package of bobbers fell off the dock. Jack leaned over to grab them and the goose went ballistic, trying to peck him in the face. He recoiled and cracked his funny bone. "Ow! Jeez! What's the matter with this crazy goose?"
Nancy said, "I don't know! I mean, I've never exactly heard of attack geese. There must be something under there she doesn't want us to bother! Could she have a nest under the dock?"
"Not this time of year, they make their nests in the spring." Warding off the goose with his cap, he looked under the dock. It was dark and fishy-smelling under there, but he saw something move back in the shadows. "Well, I'll be--there's another goose."
"I was wondering about her mate."
"There must be something the matter with it," Jonathan commented.
"Do you think we should try to get it out of there?"
"Yeah, get me that big net off the porch, would you?"
Nancy did so. Jonathan got the net over the injured goose and carefully put it on the dock. If the healthy goose hadn't wanted him looking under there, she completely freaked out at that and pinched him several times.
"Ack! God bless! Nancy, will you quit laughing and do something with this goose!"
There wasn't much she could do except get in between them.
Jonathan said, "Oh, crap. Here's what's wrong."
Nancy looked. The goose had a big fish hook stuck through his leg, and a tangle of line was wrapped all around him, pinning his wings to his body. "Yow! That's got to hurt. Is his leg broken?"
"No, I don't think so."
Nancy was wondering how they were going to get it loose. Jonathan got a pair of wire cutters out of his tackle box and clipped off the barb, then pulled the hook back out the way it had gone in.
"You know--God only knows how, but it doesn't really look too bad. I think he'll be OK once we get all this fishing line off him. There are some scissors in there."
Nancy got them for him. "His mate must have been feeding him. I didn't know geese were that smart."
"Neither did I, but either she's been bringing him stuff or he hasn't been there very long."
"What do they eat, anyway, fish?"
"Plants and stuff, I think. Hold still, dumbass goose, I'm tryin' to get this junk off you. Here, Nancy, I'll hold him and you cut the fish line."
"OK. I don't want to clip feathers by mistake." After ten or fifteen minutes, she had the goose out of the mess of fishing line. "Do you think we should take him to the vet or something?"
Jonathan inspected the goose's leg. "I think he'll be all right. He'll probably hang around here for a while until he gets to feeling better."
They got cleaned up, then they tore up some pieces of bread for both the geese. The male was swimming with the female by then, and he ate all the bread crumbs he could get.
Jack could tell it was going to be a Monday the instant they stepped off the elevator. Walter and Bill were both waiting with clipboards in hand. It wasn't anything earth-shaking, or somebody would have paged them already. "What have you got that can't wait until after I have a cup of coffee?"
Walter flipped pages. "SG-16 needs Siler to bring through some parts for the hovercraft."
Jack signed off on it. "What's their situation?"
"Broke down thirty klicks from the gate, sir, but they haven't seen any threats. Ren'auc is waiting at the gate to catch a ride back with Siler."
You didn't want to hang around too long in the vicinity of the stargate without a good reason. It was the first place that any hostiles who knew what the stargate was would look for you. If Jack knew Siler, he had the other hovercraft already loaded and waiting for the green light. Jack double-timed it up to the control room to see him off, while Sam was discussing something with Dr. Lee that completely sailed over Jack's head.
As soon as Siler was away, Jack sent an airman for coffee and donuts and surveyed the pile of paperwork that had accumulated over the long weekend. Most of it was routine stuff that could be skimmed and signed, but it still kept him busy all morning. When he finally got to the bottom of his in box, he checked his watch. He had twenty minutes before a mission briefing with SG-2. He skipped out to the commissary for a quick sandwich before Walter could bring him any more paperwork.
SG-2's mission briefing was routine stuff, an ordinary planet with lots of trees. Preliminary data suggested that it was a promising source of naquada. But it came home to Jack once and for all how much he missed it. He knew his bum knees were too old for him to be going through the gate on a regular basis, and he knew he was more valuable to the program where he was. But he still missed it. He always would.
He still missed flying, too. Of course he kept his certification up and spent as much time in the air as he could, but it wasn't the same as flying every day. He'd moved on to the next stage of his life. This was the same thing. He just hadn't expected to spend a stage of his life flying a desk.
There were compensations, though. He heard Carter and Lee coming up the stairs, and he wondered if their discussion had been going non-stop since this morning. It sure sounded like it. He loved to sit back and watch Carter when she really got going, especially when she didn't know he was paying attention. She lit up like a kid with a new toy.
Sam said, "We think we've determined the formula for that explosive that SG-4 brought back."
"You mean the stuff that smells like burnt sauerkraut?"
"Uh--that would be the one, sir. When the supply run goes through to the Alpha Site this afternoon, we'd like to go with them and do some test blasts at the firing range there."
Jack thought about the stink that would permeate the whole SGC if they did their testing in the ballistics lab here. "Permission granted!" He said hastily. "And stand upwind of the firing range!" He laughed. They had plans to go out to dinner that night and he could just imagine the looks they'd get with that stuff for perfume!
"Yes, sir!" An hour later the two of them as well as Jay and Chloe loaded a FRED with the explosives and test materials and followed the Marines with the supply shipment through the gate. O'Neill wouldn't ordinarily have minded spending a slow afternoon watching stuff go boom, but not when the fumes smelled like that.
He watched them off from the control room. Hammond had always watched the teams away, even on textbook milk runs like this. Over the years a little ritual had become a superstition that nobody now dared to defy. The gate tech, usually Walter, always called out the chevrons, and whoever was in command at the moment always wished the departing team luck or godspeed. Jack may never have seen a gremlin, but he had seen a whole lot of other things, and he wasn't going to take a chance on failing to appease them if there were any.
Jack felt Sam's absence as soon as the wormhole shut down. He told himself that was silly--she'd be home at quitting time full of technobabble about the experiment whether or not it was a success. They'd known taking their relationship to the next level would make a difference. This was the first time they'd been more than a few feet apart since that night at the cabin. Since they had made love and she'd agreed to marry him.
Generals didn't do the Snoopy happy dance around the control room, so he pretended to have some dignity and went back to his office. But even the fact that Walter had replenished his in box didn't dampen his spirits.
"Where are we going?"
Jonathan grinned. "Right up here."
"That's what you said before."
"Well, it is," he replied.
Nancy shook her head. She didn't really mind an afternoon hike through the woods, even if she didn't know exactly where they were going. Lassie sure didn't mind. She had already terrorized a garter snake and treed a couple of squirrels. For a dog who lived in a tiny apartment, romping in the forest was a special treat, but she figured the wildlife would be glad to see them go home.
"Do we have to worry about her finding a poisonous snake, Jonathan?"
"There have been rattlesnakes around here, but not as many as there are in Colorado," he replied. "What you have to worry about are bears."
"Yeah, black bears. That's why the garbage goes in the shed until we take it off. But they usually won't bother you if you don't bother them."
"Not as bad as mountain lions," she replied. There had been incidents of mountain lions attacking people around Colorado Springs and kids were always being warned about them.
Jonathan agreed with that. Bears were dangerous, no doubt, but they didn't usually consider you potentially lunch like a mountain lion very well could. And Jack had only seen a bear near the cabin a couple of times in fifty years. Even so, they both had their guns, just in case. Jonathan thought it was more likely the Trust would try to get them than a bear would.
The old path they were following skirted a small swampy patch then led through a stand of tall evergreens. Nancy slowed down once they passed the bugs around the wetland and stopped briefly to look up through the overhanging branches at the slivers of blue sky. Colorado Springs was high desert, nothing like this.
Jonathan said, "Here it is."
She joined him a short distance up the trail.
In a small clearing was the ruins of a small cabin. Really the only thing still standing was the stone chimney and foundation. "Who lived here?"
"Mom's family, when they first came over from the old country."
"Wow. It wasn't very big, was it?"
"They had six kids in there. They must have been crammed in like a can full of sardines, especially in the wintertime. Don't go in there, Grandpa always said there was a root cellar."
She stopped and looked around. "The door was here, I think." She tried to imagine log walls, a fire on the hearth, a house full of Norwegian-speaking kids. "What did they do out here in the middle of nowhere? What about school and stuff?"
"Well, there used to be a settlement about a mile and a half on around the lake. There are more foundations and stuff there. Even an old rail spur. There was a logging company, that's what brought the settlers here looking for work. There was a one-room schoolhouse there."
"So your family goes way back here."
"Yeah sure you betcha," he grinned.
"Mom, Pop and six kids. In that little cabin. I would've gone stir crazy!"
Jonathan laughed. "Yeah, me too. But they had plenty of logs if they wanted to build another room. I guess it was OK for them! Want to see the ghost town? There's an old graveyard and everything."
They followed the path on around the lake. It followed the shore for a while then turned into the forest along one of the streams that fed the lake. There was very little left of the ghost town now, just some foundations, another chimney, the rusted remains of the tracks, and the ruins of the church. The graveyard, with its 1800's era tombstones overgrown with weeds, was appropriately spooky. The old wrought iron gate still stood at an angle, all by itself now that the wooden fence was gone. People had lived and worked and raised their families here, gone to school and church, bought what they needed in the general store, and now it was all gone, these old monuments all that remained. Jonathan tried to imagine his grandfather as a boy here, around the turn of the last century. What would he think if he saw a Jaffa--or an Asgard? More damn foreigners to scare the fish, most likely! For that matter, what would he think of a grandson who came out of some alien's laboratory instead of being born to a human mother? Would he even acknowledge Jonathan as his flesh and blood?
Nancy asked, "What's the matter?"
"Oh! Just wondering what Grandpa would have done with me."
Nancy grinned, "Fed you and put you to work, most likely. Or he wasn't worth the bother." She laced her fingers with his. "If he was the man you've described to me, he wouldn't worry so much about how you got here, as what you do now that you're here."
"If your parents ever find out--" He blurted before he thought better of it.
She said, "So what if they do? It's none of anyone's business, but if they do, they'll deal." She scowled. "At least you don't have a screwed up biological father out there...."
Jonathan looked up. "He hasn't caused you any trouble lately, has he?"
Nancy shook her head and picked up a pine cone, turning it in her hands as she talked. "Mom saw him drive past the house the other day, but he didn't stop. I told her he was probably just headed for the interstate. But you just never know with him."
Jonathan, or Jack for that matter, had never dealt with a loony relative like that. He could imagine it was a constant source of stress, though--and real fear that he would snap and end up like that crazy kid who'd got fixated on Carter. "It probably was nothing, Nancy."
"I know. And he isn't here!" She grinned--and poked the pine cone down the back of his shirt and took off!
"HEY!" By the time he got the pine cone out, she had a head start towards the lake. Jonathan sailed the cone at her and gave chase. He lost sight of her momentarily, and stopped to pick up her trail. It ended at a tree. He looked up, and she was sitting on a branch out of reach over his head. With a whole tree full of pine cones. Which she started throwing as soon as he spotted her. Laughing and dodging pine cone bombs, he climbed up after her and shook a whole bunch of needles down on her. Himself, too, but he overlooked that little detail. They chased each other up, down and around the tree and flinging pine cones at one another until they were both out of breath, having thoroughly convinced the wildlife that they were certifiably crazy. Finally they called a truce and sprawled in the fragrant carpet of pine needles.
Nancy retrieved her bottle of water from where she'd left it by the tree trunk, and shared it with him. They cuddled and kissed for a while as they caught their breath.
"I love you, Nancy Spencer."
"I love you, Jonathan O'Neill."
As the shadows started to lengthen, they walked hand in hand back to the cabin.
It was a bright sunny day at the Alpha Site. Well upwind of the clouds of stinking smoke, Sam Carter watched while Jay, Bill and Chloe set the charges for the last test blast of the day. In case something were to go wrong, one person always stayed behind the barricade, and this time it was her turn. They finished setting the detonators and hurried back to join her. At her nod, Jay pressed the button. A heavy reinforced steel door set in concrete blew off its hinges and flew twenty feet, landing with a loud clang.
Sam asked, "Jay, how much did you use?"
"Three containers! I figured since it was the last test run today, we'd might as well see what it'd do!"
Bill passed her the binoculars. "It sheared the deadbolt and the hinges right off!"
"It sure packs a punch for the weight you'd have to carry, but I still have a lot of issues with carrying a hazardous liquid like this in the field. It's too easy for a container to burst or something. You don't have to worry about spilling C4 on the way to the target."
Jay commented, "It should gel. That would be more concentrated and easier to carry."
"True, if the gelled form turns out to be stable enough to carry around with you it should be even more effective!" Bill replied.
As soon as the smoke cleared, they went back down to the blast site to make more detailed observations and then they packed up for the day.
The gate was located in an underground bunker, and they had a nice climb up a hillside to get there. Chloe drove the FRED while the rest of them followed along behind.
Sam first realized something was wrong when there was no sentry at the guard post near the trail head. She looked around for him and found him lying in the shade a few yards away. She drew her sidearm and approached cautiously, well aware that a corpse or even a wounded soldier could be bait or even wired with explosives. "Are you okay, Airman?"
His only reply was a groan. Motioning for the others to stay where they were, she knelt beside the sentry to see how he was doing. His name was Bradley. He was burning up.
"I don't know what happened, ma'am. Why am I away from my post?"
"You're pretty sick. As much of a fever as you have, getting some shade was a good idea."
"The last thing I remember was feeling a little sick at my stomach."
Sam radioed, "Alpha, this is Sierra Gulf One-Niner."
"Sierra Gulf One-Niner, this is Alpha."
"I need a medic at the number three sentry post."
"This area is under lockdown, SG-1-9. What is your situation?"
"Airman Bradley was unconscious when I first found him, he is now oriented. He has a high fever."
"Roger that. The medic's on his way."
Presently the blast doors opened and the medic, accompanied by two airmen with a stretcher, came down the hill to join them. After a brief exam, the sick man was loaded onto the stretcher and then onto the FRED, and they continued back to the bunker.
Sam asked, "What do you think is the matter with him?"
The medic shook his head. "I don't know yet, but he's the second one today."
They parted ways at the corridor to the infirmary. Sam stopped for a cup of coffee and to shoot the breeze with the base commander, Col. Everly.
The unscheduled off-world activation alarm blared. Since the gate here didn't have an iris yet, everyone available grabbed their weapons and took defensive positions. They waited tensely for the wormhole to stabilize.
Everyone relaxed when Bratac, Malek and Serenshai came through and the gate shut down behind them. Everly said, "Master Bra'tac. We weren't expecting you again so soon."
"I fear that I do not have good tidings, ColonelEverly. Have you had contact with anyone off-world?"
"We received a supply shipment from the SGC today."
"But no one has left here?"
"No, we haven't even got around to sending the supply FREDs back yet. Why, what's wrong?"
"I come bearing bad news. We may have unwittingly exposed you to a plague," the old Jaffa said. "Some of my men happened onto a group of refugees. They fled the fighting between Ba'al and Olakun. They are women, children, the aged. My warriors took pity on them and brought them back to the camp until we might find a safe haven for them. This morning, however, several of them began to fall ill with what we call the Netu virus. It is so called because one of its symptoms is a deadly high fever. It is highly communicable, and the Goa'uld often use it as a biological weapon because it kills nearly all its victims. It survives about forty-eight hours outside the body. Jaffa and blended pairs are immune to it, of course, but we can vector it by carrying the virus on our skin and clothing. I fear that is what happened this morning, before we knew to take precautions."
Everly immediately ordered a lockdown and paged the medic. "We have two men in the infirmary now with high fevers."
"I had no idea that the refugees were coming down with it when we came here earlier. In fact they had no idea that they had been exposed until they began to fall ill a little while ago."
Carter said, "It wasn't your fault, Bra'tac, you couldn't have known."
"Fault and responsibility are often two things, ColonelCarter. ColonelEverly, my apprentices and I will render whatever assistance you need, whether to tend the sick or to reinforce your security contingent."
"Thanks, Bra'tac. Right now we're not doing too bad, but if this spreads we'll be glad to have the help." Everly ordered decontamination procedures, hoping to keep anyone who hadn't already been exposed from getting the disease. He reported back to the SGC.
O'Neill had been wrapping up for the day in anticipation of Carter's return when the call came through. Malek knew quite a bit about the disease, so O'Neill put Brightman on the radio with him and the two of them developed a plan of action. Brightman requested permission to go through and take over the treatment. O'Neill immediately gave her a go, and she and two assistants hurried to collect their gear and suit up.
The wormhole shut down behind them. After that, there was absolutely nothing more he could besides wait. At least Sam could make herself useful in the lab, he thought. Anything had to be better than sitting around waiting to get sick.
Sirikat heard about the situation through the base grapevine. "Jack, might my spells be of some use? At the very least, I cannot be infected, so I will be able to care for those who are."
"You're right," he agreed, but cautioned, "Don't forget the biohazard procedures. You can't come down with the bug, but you might carry it to someone else."
"I will remember."
"The infirmary staff are preparing a supply shipment. You can go through with it," he said. "And tell Sam--" She waited for him to figure out how to word the message, but he just said, "Aw, hell, you know what I mean."
Sirikat smiled. "I believe so. Sam certainly will."
"And another thing. Don't forget there isn't an iris on that stargate. If you get an unscheduled offworld activation alarm, make damn sure you know who's coming through before you let your guard down."
"I understand," she replied. "Jack, if there are not enough people left healthy to defend the site, what would you have me do?"
"Let's don't borrow trouble, Punkin," he replied. "Bra'tac, Malek and Serenshai are there already. I doubt you'll run short of people to defend the place." He didn't want to think about finding a place to evacuate possible carriers of a deadly disease, or sending reinforcements in protective gear. Both of those things were options and he was already forming contingency plans. Sirikat would have enough on her plate as it was.
She nodded. "I should hurry, so that I don't delay the medics."
As it happened, Teal'c returned from visiting his family before the medics were ready to go. He went through with them, and O'Neill was reassured that the Jaffa would be there.
Jack tried to work in his office for a while, but he was too nervous to concentrate. He decided to walk off some of the excess energy and wandered down to Daniel's office. The archaeologist was having trouble focusing on his work as well.
"You know, Jack, it might not be as bad as Bra'tac thinks. The Jaffa don't know a lot about infectious diseases for obvious reasons. We've had a lot more success treating them."
Jack said, "Yeah. I know."
Daniel poured two cups of coffee, then sat on the countertop to drink his.
"Daniel, do you believe in jinxes?"
"Not really, no."
"Good, because neither do I, but I was starting to think there might be one. Whenever something goes right, it seems like some other crap has to go wrong to make up for it."
Daniel said wryly, "The crap goes wrong anyhow. I think we're just lucky things go right once in a while."
Jack snorted. "I thought I had the market cornered on cynicism around here."
"After the better part of ten years, you've rubbed off on all of us," Daniel replied. "Sam's tough, Jack. She'll be fine."
Jack wanted to believe that, but there had been too many times when all of them had not been "fine."
This was the reason for the frat regs in the first place. He and Sam had known exactly what they were getting into. He hadn't expected it to jump up and bite him on the ass so soon, but given the alternative--going on the way they had been before Antarctica--it was more than worth it. He had work to do.
Daniel watched his old friend box it up and put it away, as he had so often over the years, and wished there were more he could do. "Dinner later?"
"Yeah, I guess." Food was the last thing from his mind. Which, of course, was why Daniel was going to make sure he ate something. It wasn't lost on either of them that there was a role-reversal in that. Usually he was the one making sure Sam and Daniel ate and slept occasionally. Since he'd taken this job, one of them or Walter now often pried him away from his desk. Jack never would have believed that day would ever come.
"Call me if you hear anything before that, Jack." Some of Daniel's own fear for Sam came through in that.
"You know I will," Jack assured him.
At the Alpha Site, Sam had made herself useful in the lab for several hours. Over that time, the infirmary had filled up and spilled over into a conference room, hastily furnished with cots. Bill and Chloe had fallen ill a couple hours after they had returned to the gate complex from the firing range. So far, she and Jay Felger had been lucky. Jay was helping to tend the folks in the infirmary, displaying a patient and caring side that they rarely saw. With him, Sirikat and Teal'c, and Bra'tac and his apprentices, there were enough people to care for the sick. Dr. Brightman had divided the remainder of the Alpha Site personel into two groups--those who had contact with the sick or with Bra'tac when he had been here earlier, and those who had not. They hoped to avoid any further spread of the disease that way.
The fever was the most serious danger to the victims of the disease. Sirikat and Serenshai's healing spells were proving just as effective and much less unpleasant than ice packs, but they could only be in one place at a time. The infirmary was still keeping the icemaker working full time.
Brightman suddenly looked up from the monitor of the electron microscope. "Aha! I got you now!" She exulted, all of her Savannah accent coming through loud and clear in her excitement.
Carter spun her office chair around to take a look. "That's the virus?"
"Yes, ma'am!" She grinned. "I found it in samples of all the infected people's blood."
"Now that you know what it is, you can find out what kills it."
"Mm-hmm." Brightman prepared samples and collected the data to send through the next time they dialed the SGC. All of that would be couriered to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, so that all of that organization's resources could be brought to bear to help find an effective antiviral drug. Meanwhile, Brightman began her own tests with the drugs they had on hand. It was going to be a long night.
O'Neill watched from the briefing room window as a biohazard-suited lab tech disinfected the FRED, sample containers and all, then loaded everything into a sturdy container for transport to the CDC in Atlanta. A driver was waiting on the surface to take him to Peterson with it. After getting the suit off, he handcuffed the case to his wrist and took off. A pair of airmen moved in to deal with the protective suit and the FRED.
Daniel came up as Jack was about to call him. "Any news?"
O'Neill said, "Bill and Chloe and a whole lot of Everly's kids are down with it," he said. "So far they're holding, and Brightman got a look at this bug."
"Well, that's good news!" Daniel exclaimed. "Y'know, Janet would've...."
"....Yeah, I know," the General replied. "I gotta call the day care and tell them Jamie's staying overnight, then we can go."
This was the kind of puzzle that Daniel could do very little to help solve, and that didn't sit well with him. He scowled into the now-empty gate room.
An unseen hand caressed the back of his neck. "Your friends fight this battle as every other, beloved."
"Bill and Chloe aren't soldiers, Sha're."
"Perhaps not soldiers, but I think everyone within this mountain is a warrior," the ghost replied. "They will win this battle, and deprive the Goa'uld of a fearsome weapon in the doing."
Jack said from the door, "Damn straight, Sha're. You know you don't have to go around invisible all the time. Everyone knows you're here anyhow."
She laughed softly and shimmered into sight. "I forget."
Jack managed a grin, though the humor didn't dispel all the shadows from his eyes. "Let's go before all the fried chicken is gone."
Carter took off the BDU jacket that she had been wearing over her tank top and decided she would get herself some ice water. All was fine until she stood up from her chair, then the room tilted sideways and she realized she was falling. Hitting her head on the desk seemed like a bad idea, so she pushed off and fell back into the chair instead. It broke her fall as it rolled away under her.
Brightman shouted for a nurse and the next thing Carter knew she was being carried on a stretcher. Things got fuzzy for a while. Some time after that, she realized she was on a cot in a hospital gown, and there was an IV in her arm. She blinked up at the ceiling light, disoriented--this wasn't the infirmary. Then she got it through her head that she was in a makeshift ward in the corridor between the infirmary and the conference room.
An ice bag plopped onto the floor from the nearest cot. Carter said, "Hey, you need that--"
Dr. Lee had been either asleep or incoherent whenever she'd been momentarily awake before, but for the moment he seemed to know what was going on. He said, "Sorry, Colonel...I can't do this any more!"
He looked awful, but she was more frightened by the despair in his voice. "Bill, don't you dare give up on me!"
"Do you have any idea where that damn ice pack goes?"
"Yeah, on the pulse point--your femoral artery is close to the skin there, the ice can cool your blood and bring the damn fever down. Move anything else out of the way but put that ice bag right back where it belongs!" She told him in her best command tone. "So help me, you're not going to let this thing beat you. You've got a lot more fight in you and I want to start seeing some of it!"
There was absolutely nothing she could have done to back it up considering the shape she was in, but nobody wanted to mess with her when she was in Colonel mode. Sheepishly Bill fumbled for the ice bag and somehow managed to get it without rolling off the cot. A moment later he was out of his head again, but he didn't sound like he was giving up anymore--and the ice bag stayed.
They could die here. Just because Donna had an electron micrograph of the virus didn't mean she could come up with a cure in time. It wasn't just a case of fighting not to die on general principles. More than she had in a very long time--since things had gone sour with Jonas Hansen so many years ago--Carter really wanted to live. There was so much to look forward to and she was determined not to miss it. And she was scared. But the guy in the next cot over from Bill was giving her a grin and a thumbs-up.
She wasn't just fighting for her own life. She was fighting for everyone else's as well. If she, a respected senior officer, allowed herself to give up, they would too, and that wasn't something she could allow. She had a good example, after all. For seven years she had learned from O'Neill's stubborn refusal to surrender, no matter how desperate the situation. He had told her once that everything usually boiled down to the same basic formula--stay focused on what you have to do to survive, keep fighting no matter how bad the odds look, and you'll go home. It really was that simple. When a nurse brought her a collection of ice bags of her own, she didn't complain at all.
The gate guard that they had found coded at 0200h. Sam watched the code team disappear into the infirmary, and a while later they returned. Sam took one look at Donna's face and knew. This thing had claimed its first casualty. Her voice was hoarse but loud and clear. "Donna, you'll beat this thing, and we'll fight until you do."
Brightman's eyes met her patient's. There was no time to second-guess herself about the one she'd lost when there were so many more she needed to save. Her chin came up a notch and she said, "We're working on a new combination of anti-viral drugs that seems to hit it pretty hard. They'll be sending a supply through the gate shortly so we can start administering it."
Carter forced a brave smile and nodded, but she was glad she didn't have to keep it up for long, as Brightman disposed of the rubber gloves she was wearing and got back to work. Janet would have approved.
Carter thought she might be seeing her friend again sooner than expected. She was burning alive and it hurt. She wanted Jack, but at the same time the sensible part of her mind was extremely thankful that he was far away from the danger.
She buckled down and drew on that inner reserve of strength which had given her the means to survive as Fifth's prisoner. She would never give up, not while Jack was waiting for her, not while people were depending on her.
Carter deliberately turned her thoughts away from her current misery, to the cabin and Jack. They'd talked about finding somewhere offworld where they could get married far from the public eye. Everything had been so clear and simple there. It still was.
Keep focused. Keep fighting. Go home.
The next thing Carter knew she was dunked in a tub of ice water. She let out a shriek and struggled to get out, but a strong, dark-skinned arm held her firmly. "Major Carter, you must desist! Your fever has gone dangerously high."
She trusted that voice. Ceasing her escape attempts, she instead fought her way out of the cobwebs to find out what was going on. She had splashed Teal'c with water from the ice bath. Brightman and a couple nurses were also dripping wet. "S-s-sorry," she apologized through chattering teeth.
Donna said, "Don't worry about it, ma'am, I'd be more upset if you weren't putting up a hell of a fight."
"Indeed," Teal'c seconded. Even in the ice bath she felt like a furnace.
Teal'c's quiet strength was a secure anchor. She tried to make sense of the last few hours, but it was a mix of nightmares and hallucinations about things she really didn't want to recall anyhow. It was oh-dark-thirty and she was sick as a dog. The current situation was more important right now. "W-w-what's happening?"
"I've given you a combination of anti-viral medications, but you have to hang on and give them time to start working. I want you to stay in the ice water for another ten minutes, can you do that for me?"
"Walk in the p-p-park," she replied.
Teal'c shifted his hold on her to support her and make sure she didn't dunk her head, instead of keeping her from getting out of the tub. She tried to stay awake, but she had drifted off again when the nurses got her into a dry gown and wheeled her gurney out of the room.
Teal'c gave Brightman a questioning look. She said, "The meds are working on the other patients. It's all up to her to hang on until her fever breaks."
The Jaffa nodded. His assistance was needed with the next patient's ice bath, so he could not accompany her. "I have every confidence that she will do so," he replied.
Brightman had done all that medical science could do. She hoped and prayed that Teal'c was right.
O'Neill had left his office to try to get a little sleep, but whenever he managed to doze off, he was wakened soon after by nightmares of the time he had been so sick with the Ancients' plague--and the whole FUBAR with Kan'an and Ba'al that had followed. Finally about 0430h, he gave it up and stood under a hot shower running full blast until the dream images washed down the drain with the soap.
Daniel was in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee, and Jack smiled to see Sha're's translucent form next to him, drawing no more attention than any other night-shift denizen of the commissary. After the things the SGC had seen in the last eight years, no one who could see her so much as batted an eyelash at a ghost. She and Daniel had their heads together over copies of some old inscription like two peas in a pod, and Jack was willing to bet they hadn't been near Daniel's quarters all night.
Sha're said, "I recalled one of Amaunet's memories of this weapon. It is a thing of Ba'al's doing. Dan'yel had seen these inscriptions from one of the temples on the barren world of Kandar, what you know as P9D-391."
Daniel said, "From these writings, it sounds as though Ba'al may have had a bioweapons lab there. If he did, then we might find something there that could help with the research for a cure."
Jack asked him, "Can you be ready for a briefing in thirty?"
Jack downed his coffee and got down to his office. SG-16 was on ready alert. They were about to get a wake-up call.
Someone moving near her cot woke Carter from a confused, horrifying dream of fire and blood and pain. She saw a Jaffa hand reaching for her and training and reflexes took over. An instant later she was off the bed with her arm across the enemy's throat.
Someone yelled, "Airman, stand down!"
She blinked and the Jaffa disappeared. Instead, she was eye-to-eye with a terrified Donna Brightman.
The Air Force nurse who had snapped her out of it somehow caught them both before they could hit the floor. Brightman gasped for air behind her mask and helped get Carter back to bed.
"Donna, are you OK? I'm sorry! I swear I thought you were a Jaffa!" Carter exclaimed.
"I'm OK! I was just scared, not hurt!" Brightman managed to gasp.
The nurse, Lynn Rush, said, "That's why you never do that! You thank your lucky stars that wasn't General O'Neill. I've seen him throw Teal'c across the infirmary before!"
Donna got herself under control. "Lord have mercy, I was going to ask if you were feeling better but I think that just got answered."
There was a loud round of laughter in the corridor, and somebody made a wiseass remark about payback for all that ice.
Carter realized she actually was feeling better, more so than that adrenaline rush explained. Her gown was wringing wet, this time from sweat rather than ice water. "Donna, you pulled it off! And that was one hell of a thank-you."
"No, Rush is right, ma'am, I asked for it. I'm OK, really, you just scared me out of ten years' growth! If I had been a Jaffa, I'd have been a dead one. When you're back on your feet you're going to have to show me how you did that."
"Sure, as soon as you tell me what I did."
Carter tried to figure out what exactly she had been dreaming about. The Jaffa, a short, stocky light-haired man wearing Ba'al's symbol, reaching down to pull her out of something that glowed white...and before that...
Donna saw her blanch white and hurried to find out what was wrong.
Sam took deep breaths and made herself settle down. "I just remembered that nightmare, that's all. I'm all right now."
Donna said gently, "It must've been a doozie. This was all way more excitement than you needed right now." She briefly examined Carter. "You're doing much better. In fact, everyone's nearly out of the woods. With rest and fluids, you'll be up and around in no time. Lynn's going to draw some blood then you need to rest."
Carter grumbled, "What I'll be needing is a transfusion." The wisecrack drew laughter, even from Bill Lee, who frankly looked like death warmed over.
Rush said, "I'll try to leave you some, Colonel."
Carter lay back and let her do her job. If Brightman was right and the worst was over, she wondered how long it would be before they were allowed to go home.
She was glad she worked with so many black ops veterans, and the medical staff who attended them, that everyone more or less took it in stride when people came up fighting. She'd have to do worse than shove someone against a bulkhead to get packed off to counseling. That memory wasn't just her private business, it was Jack's too. Fifth had drawn on his memory of his torture at Ba'al's hands, and put her through some of the same things. Now that she was starting to remember the details, she had to deal with a murderous rage for what he had suffered two years ago, as well as the aftermath of her own experience.
There was nothing she could do right now. She closed her eyes and slept--this time without dreaming, thankfully.
The next morning after hearing Dr. Brightman's report, Jack made it back to his office before he went weak with relief. He still had a letter to write to the Bradley kid's parents, about a fictitious training accident. But first he gave thanks that there was only one letter. That they had access to the kind of leading edge medical care capable of nipping an epidemic in the bud. That Bra'tac's business that day had happened to take him to the relatively closed environment of the Alpha site rather than the SGC, where the contagion could easily have escaped into Colorado Springs before anyone was the wiser.
He opened a new document and started to write. If he had to lie about the exact circumstances of Bradley's death, he could tell the truth about what a fine young man he had been, and what he had meant to the people who worked with him. For now, that would have to be enough, but someday these people would receive all of the honor that they deserved. Someday.
Daniel got back late that evening tired but triumphant. First he wanted to know what was going on at the Alpha site, then he reported on their findings.
"We got it," he announced. "Ba'al's researcher was a typical Goa'uld who couldn't resist boasting about his accomplishments. The walls were absolutely covered with inscriptions. It wasn't hard to figure out where the old laboratory was, and when we got in there we found a huge stack of data tablets containing lab notes about the development of the virus just lying on a table. I need to get started on these translations so we can send them on to the CDC. I'm no virologist but I think they may be able to develop a vaccine from the information on those tablets."
Jack grinned to see the old fire and enthusiasm in his friend's eyes. "After you get some sleep, Danny, you can barely stand up straight."
SG-1 was going in different directions. Sam was coming into her own as a senior officer, and he was quite sure that he'd be saluting her one of these days. Teal'c and the rebel Jaffa could see the realization of all their hopes for freedom as a concrete goal rather than as a distant dream. The work that Daniel was doing now would eventually rewrite Earth's history books--not bad for a kid who'd been laughed off the stage back in the day. As for him, he'd finish out his career right here in the SGC, and he was content with that. All the change was starting starting to feel more like they were growing into their new roles rather than flying apart.
Two days later, the quarantine was lifted. Sam came through the gate between Teal'c and Bra'tac, but on her own feet. Bra'tac couldn't stay, but he had come to apologize in person.
Jack replied, "Apology accepted, Master Bra'tac, but this wasn't your fault. It could have just as easily been the other way around. People have been using bioweapons for years because they work so well as a terrorist threat."
Bra'tac nodded. Presently he and Teal'c left together. As soon after that as he could, Jack went up to the infirmary to see what the situation was with Sam, Bill and Chloe. Bill was lying in his bed with his nose stuck in an electrical engineering journal, and Jay had already taken Chloe home.
Brightman told him, "Colonel Carter is taking a shower right now, sir, you can take her home as soon as she gets changed. There's no longer any danger of spreading the disease. Bill's got the right idea, give her a stack of journals and her laptop and let her lie around and take it easy. I expect that she'll continue to sleep most of the time for a few more days, but she's going to be fine."
For a brief moment the general's relief at that was written in his dark eyes. "Thank you, Dr. Brightman. You did a great job out there."
Brightman straightened to attention. "Thank you, sir!"
"At ease, Captain. I suspect there's a hot shower, a plate of dinner and a bunk somewhere with your name on them too."
"Yes, sir! I'll be handing off to Dr. Carmichael as soon as he finishes his rounds and then I think I'm going to sleep the clock around."
The door opened and Sam and Sirikat came in, wearing civvies and ready to leave. Sam still looked tired and Sirikat was sticking close to her, but she had a lot of her color back. O'Neill asked, "Ready to get out of here, Carter?"
"Yes, sir." They maintained decorum as far as the truck, where Jack hugged her for a moment before he helped her into the passenger seat. Sirikat climbed into the back seat of the club cab.
"Hey. I hear you were a big help at the Alpha Site, Punkin."
"Never enough healers at a time like that. I want my bed," she sighed.
"Soon as we pick up Jamie and run through a drive-through somewhere for some supper, we'll have you home in no time. Any particulars?"
"Food," she said, making him and Sam both laugh. She was already asleep before he got the key into the ignition.
The truck rumbled to life. He called the day care and let them know he was on his way to pick up Jamie while they waited in line at the guard post. It wasn't long before Sam also fell asleep. Both of them woke up just enough to grumble about the cold air when he got out of the truck at Mrs. Murphy's. He got mobbed by the four little Griff girls when he opened the door. They didn't look like the same bunch of kids they had pulled out of that NID hellhole. They were getting big enough to remind him of a young Cassie, with their hair in braids and dirt on the knees of their jeans from playing in the back yard. Gloria gave Jamie a kiss before she handed him over.
He was struck by how normal this was--getting off work at five, picking his kid up from day care, going home to the suburbs. He was suddenly scared sick that he wouldn't get to keep it. He'd had it all before and lost everything. What if this was just another little taste of the good life before it would all fall to pieces again?
He put his cap on Jamie's head and the boy laughed in the afternoon sun. They had now, and the good sense to appreciate it. There was never any use worrying about any more than that.
Sunrise Saturday morning ended Jonathan and Nancy's last night at the cabin. They enjoyed a hot cup of coffee out on the porch, watching the early morning mist rise off the lake. The geese were already swimming together, the gander seeming none the worse for his misadventure with the fishing line. Jonathan put his arm around Nancy's waist. "Guess we'd better be loading up and get an early start."
"Yeah," she said. "Thanks for bringing me up here, Jonathan. I wish we could just stay here forever. I'm not looking forward to going back home."
"You know, I never thought I'd hear myself saying this, but I'm looking forward to school starting. Senior year is going to be fun."
Nancy agreed. "I think the martial arts club has a good chance to make it to the state championship this year. And I know we'll make it at least to the quarter finals in football. This might be the year we go all the way."
"Yeah, if the quarterback doesn't break his leg again," Jonathan agreed.
He looked forward to surprising her with flying lessons on her birthday next month. He had to do something to top the gang giving him a car last year. He was sure her parents would agree to it, they knew how much she wanted to fly.
In the distance, migrating geese called. As they drew nearer, the pair on the lake perked up and answered. They took to the air to meet their flock, with the new day's sun on their wings and all the great wild sky ahead of them.
Jonathan and Nancy stood with their arms around each other, watching them on their way. Soon now it would be time for them to fly as well. Soon, but not quite yet. This was precious time, and they held it close to their hearts.
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