Any Landing You Walk Away From

by Rebecca Ratliff

EMAIL: rmratliff@adelphia.net

DATE: October 2003

ARCHIVE: If I haven't submitted to your archive, please ask. (I'll say yes, I just like to know where it is.)

CATEGORY: Angst, H/C

RATING: PG-13

WARNING: none, really -- language, mention of violence in previous story

SPOILERS: Fragile Balance

SEASON/SEQUEL INFO: Season 7 before Evolution pt. 1. Sequel to Fortress. This story is part of the Gates of War fanfic series, and won't make any sense unless the reader knows who Sirikat, Jonathan and Jamie are. Previous stories in this series may be found at http://buckeyebelle.tripod.com/

SUMMARY: Fortress epilogue. Read that one first. :)

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.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. :)

AUTHOR'S NOTES: This story is a departure from my usual stuff. No Goa'uld, NID or hostile aliens in sight. Just a lot of character interaction and introspectives. This was inspired by several questions that came up while my beta reader and I were working on the final draft of Fortress.

FEEDBACK: Much appreciated.


Sunday afternoon in the SGC infirmary was boring beyond belief. After the events of less that 24 hours ago, Jack O'Neill wondered exactly where he had found the resources to get bored. He wanted nothing more that to get off this damn bed and make the rounds of the base...to see for himself that everything was back to normal.

Fraiser came in, her hair still damp from the shower. The scent of the strong antiseptic soap that was used to scrub down after potential exposure to extraterrestrial organisms wafted behind her.

"Did you autopsy that thing?"

Fraiser nodded with satisfaction. "It's well and truly dead," she assured him. "As for whatever else can be learned from it--I just packed the remains off to Area 51. In a number of sample containers."

O'Neill found that a very comforting thought. "So when are you letting me out?"

"As soon as Sirikat and Jonathan come to get you," she said smugly, one step ahead of him for once. "The water on your street was turned off while the city was doing something."

"Sweet Jesus, now you got Jonathan and Sirikat gangin' up on me? Thanks a lot, Doc."

Fraiser laughed. "You'll get no sympathy from me. Cassie would've been ready to saddle up and ride with the posse yesterday if she hadn't already been on the Plan A roster at day care."

"How did they know to call a Plan A?" O'Neill wasn't sure he had all the details right from yesterday--several hours of severe pain had a way of confusing things--but he was fairly sure all he'd managed to do was hit the foothold "panic button."

"I think the kids tipped Gloria off when they figured out something was badly wrong up here."

"Good." He was relieved that the emergency plans they'd developed for the day care center had gone off flawlessly. If Gloria Murphy had needed to evacuate the kids in a hurry, there would have been enough adults to carry it out. Most of them were former military like Gloria herself, all were civilians who wouldn't be called in to the SGC to deal with whatever emergency initiated the Plan A in the first place.

O'Neill knew they would learn from this incident here at the SGC and put procedures in place to prevent invaders from establishing a foothold by beaming into some other part of the facility besides the gateroom. The same stunt wouldn't work twice. That wouldn't stop the bad guys from coming up with a new one next time.

Fraiser sent him home in scrubs that had long since washed out soft and comfortable. The injuries would drain. There was no sense wearing anything good until they healed over. She bagged up a couple of similar sets for him to take home, and folded a blanket. The calendar said fall, but the mountains said winter, and the mountains always won the argument.

It was another half hour before the kids got there. Jonathan's crew were sticking pretty close together--not really surprising after yesterday. They'd got a hell of an initiation into the way the universe really worked, and they'd learned that a lot of it was closer to a third-world dictatorship than to the USA.

Jack had a broken bone in one foot and it hurt like hell to put any weight on either one, so for once he didn't argue with Fraiser's insistence on a wheelchair out to the parking lot. "Hey, Sirikat, how come you didn't fix this stuff last night?"

"It was better to wait until today."

"OK. You'll have to explain that one."

"I shall. At home."

Jack figured the moon was probably moving into the right sign or something. "OK...."

Jonathan gave Nancy his keys. "We'll swing by and pick up Jamie from day care."


Halfway down the mountain, when Jack had to grab the kid seat to keep from sliding off into the floor, he grudgingly admitted that Fraiser had been right to confiscate his keys.

Jonathan asked, "Fraiser gave you the good stuff?"

"Oh, yeah." He took up the slack in his seatbelt so he wouldn't slide out from under it, and after that he was in and out all the way to Mrs. Murphy's house.

He knew that Jonathan had got out of the truck. A few minutes later, his brother returned with Jamie.

"Daddy!" The boy scrambled over the kid seat to his father's arms. Jack couldn't help wincing, but it was worth it to hold Jamie. After a couple minutes, Jonathan helped him buckle the boy into the car seat and drove them the rest of the way home.

SG-1 had got to the house earlier, to turn the heat up and bring in groceries. Jonathan and the kids didn't stay long.

An hour and a half later, Jack was settled on the couch in his living room. Getting into the house had not been fun, but now the aches and pains he'd aggravated getting home had finally settled down and he was fairly comfortable again.

Everyone had gone except Sam, who was upstairs putting Jamie to bed. Jack asked Sirikat, "So what were you telling me before?"

"About why it was better to wait? Two things. First, I can block it somewhat, but healing deep burns like these is going to hurt. There just no way around that. Even if you only keep it clean and leave it alone, you still will know it when the skin starts to grow back."

"OK, so, therefore...?"

"There is another thing. Healing is not so different from far-speaking. Now, I have no idea if either of those things is anything like what that creature was doing, but if it is.... I didn't think you would want to find this out in the infirmary in front of an audience."

"Oh." Jack remembered that Sirikat knew all about flashbacks. "That was good thinking."

"I wish I had the same kind of magic as on your television, so that I could just wave a magic wand and make it go away. How I wish I could do that! Why does it always have to be you?!"

"Karma? I've done a lot of things in my time that I'm not proud of. Broken all the commandments, except I guess the making idols one. And your religion holds that whatever you send out into the universe comes back to you, doesn't it? Or maybe Daniel figured it out. He thinks the universe is trying to teach me something. At least when he was ascended, he did. Or, hell, maybe I busted a sack of mirrors. I don't know, Punkin. But if there's a damn lesson involved, I wish somebody would give me the Cliff notes, because I'm getting way too old for this crap."

"I think it is simply this--you will ever put yourself between any danger and those you love."

"Nobody else is any different. You weren't, yesterday. Jonathan and those kids sure weren't. I am so proud of you. And so help me God, if you guys ever risk your lives again to get me out of a jam--! I couldn't have lived with myself if something had happened to one of you on my account."

"I cannot promise you that I will outlive you. My fate is not in my hands. I walk the path that my gods have set before me. I will do my best to walk it with honor, and where it leads me, there I will go. But I promise this, with all that I am--if I have to leave you, I will not be long away. You know this. Have I not already proven it? You have always been my guiding star, and I think that has been true for lifetimes before Siri-I was Charlie."

Jack pulled her into a tight embrace. "Do you know how many years it's been since I believed in anything? I mean, really believed, not just going through the motions? Your faith in your gods gave me a reason to have faith in my own religion again. And you've given me a reason to question my prejudices. A lot of symbiotes are always gonna be damn snakes to me...."

"A lot of us are damn snakes!" She scowled. "It makes me sick to be the same type of creature as the Goa'uld!"

"Exactly my point! Some of you aren't damn snakes. You're the one who really, finally convinced me of that."

"All that I have done was to love you," she replied.

"That's enough," he said. "Love you too, Punkin."

Sirikat sat back on her heels. "Do you want me to try to help heal this?"

"Yeah. See what you can do about my feet. I hate hobbling around bad enough that it'll be worth it, and you'll be where you can run if I freak out."

"All right, but don't you dare kick with that broken foot." Sirikat wasn't afraid of getting kicked, that would be nothing she couldn't heal. But all he needed was to complicate what was now a relatively stable fracture. And she wasn't about to let O'Neill get his hands on her if he didn't know who she was.

She eased off the slippers that he had worn home and ran her fingers over the bandages so gently that he barely felt her touch.

"Gods, yes, you have a broken bone in there. I'm surprised that Dr. Fraiser didn't put it in a cast."

"Told her I was gonna get you to fix it."

She got a red crystal from the bag at her belt, her large bloodstone. "I do that first. Even if you don't let me help the burns along, you'll be able to get around a lot better until they heal on their own."

"That's good."

"You will feel my presence when I set the blocks."

"I'm ready. Go ahead." O'Neill remembered the time she'd healed his broken ribs, and the staff blast injury. This was different, because now he could feel the naquada in his body reacting to whatever she was doing. Fraiser had given him Tylenol 3s, and the codeine had helped. As she set blocks, though, he realized there had still been a lot of pain that he'd pushed aside and refused to acknowledge, without even noticing until it was gone.

"It's okay, Sirikat. This is nothing like that...thing."

She nodded, relaxing when Jack did. She concentrated on mending the broken bone, then the burns on his feet. Her warning had been for good reason, but he knew what healing nerves felt like. He let himself drift away to her soft, repetitive chanting, safe in a place within his mind where pain and fear had no place.

A while later, he sensed Carter coming into the room and pulled himself back to reality. OK, he wasn't going to flash back just because Carter was in the room. Dagar was dead. Fraiser had cut the carcass up in little pieces and sent them off to Area 51. That thing couldn't control either of them any more.

When he opened his eyes, there was nothing. Whatever the trigger was, it hadn't happened this time. Maybe it was only something he'd have to worry about in the infirmary.

Sirikat said, "I got the ones on your feet and some that were near joints. Those looked like they would cause the most trouble."

"It'll sure be nice to get up to my room tonight."

Sam had brought his medicine and the stuff to fix up his wounds. Sirikat saw the bottle of saline and reinforced the blocks that she had set earlier.

As soon as Carter knelt by the couch and peeled off a Band-aid, a flash-back hit him full force, scaring the hell out of all three of them.

The next thing he knew, Sirikat's grip changed from restraining his wrists to holding him tight the instant he knew where he was. Carter swore, "Damn, you move like a cat! I don't know why it always surprises me so much that you can move that fast--!"

"Carter, are you OK? Jesus!"

She nodded. "Trust me, I got the hell out of there! God, how stupid--I should have known if I did that I'd set you off. Sir, I'm so sorry...."

O'Neill didn't know whether to curse or laugh at himself. He'd thought he could keep it from her. "It wasn't what you think! Y'see, I was focusing on the ceiling tiles--and the way I was lying there, all I could see was the top of your head. Sirikat would have triggered the same thing. It's all that blonde hair."

Sirikat said something in Daltregonian that Jack suspected was extremely rude. "By the gods, that miserable creature got off too easily!"

"What do you want me to do, sir? It's still early, Janet's probably still awake. Or she could send Cassie."

"Carter, Doc was passing out on her feet, and there is no way in hell Cassie's doing this!"

Sirikat said, "Don't be difficult. You know you'll be impossible to live with the minute you give someone a black eye."

"Now that I've got it figured out, I won't freak like that again."

Carter nodded. "I'm game if you are, sir. But I'm warning you, if you swat me one, Sirikat and I are gonna go visit Miss Clairol!"

Jack broke up laughing in spite of himself, and before long they were all howling. It was hysterical laughter, to be sure, but nobody cared. Somehow they had cheated Lady Death one more time. They hadn't got away with it unscathed, but as Tau'ri pilots have known for generations, any landing that you walk away from is a good one. Whenever they started to calm down, somebody would suggest some weird hair color and start it all over again. Finally they collapsed, holding each other. Jack and Sam didn't even realize they were in a compromising position until the phone rang, startling them all wide awake.

Sirikat got it. Sam jumped back, both of them flushing as red as a couple of kids caught in the back seat at Inspiration Point. Jack thought angrily, damn it, they had needed that release! He wasn't the only one suffering here. Sam would be a while chasing all the shadows of guilt from the dark corners of her mind. Sirikat had just buried Daitar, and here he'd almost penciled another funeral in her date book. Or she could have been killed saving his ass! God damn it to hell, they needed to be a family now. That was how human beings survived the unthinkable, by finding that strength in family that was so much more than the sum of its parts.
  
Sirikat was saying, "Yes, it's been back on for several hours...everything's fine, yes....Thank you for calling! Goodbye!" She hung up and said, deadpan, "The city has turned the water back on."

Sam snickered, but then she noticed a few wet spots on Jack's scrubs. "We need to get this done, sir."

"OK. Sirikat, I don't think I'll lose it again, but don't let me go after either of you if I do."

"As bad as it is, it is only memory," she said, echoing the words Shaneska and Vanira had said to her about her consorts' murders, about Garan, almost a year ago when Jack had first brought her home. "Remember this--you won."

Carter started her work, trusting in him not to hurt her, in Sirikat not to let him. The trigger was still there, but he had already started the process of desensitizing himself to it. One deep shudder ran through him as he waited for that cruel burning torment to start up again.

The real thing hadn't broken him. Memory wouldn't. He shook it off and deliberately relaxed. That was one trigger that wouldn't go off again. He knew all too well that there would be nightmares for a long while to come, but the days would be his own.

The demons that you could kill with a dozen 9 mil rounds were nothing compared to the ones that could only be defeated by dragging them out of the shadows of your own worst doubts and terrors and staring them straight in the eye. Here was another one to chalk in the win column.

After that, exhaustion caught up again and he fell asleep under Carter's gentle hands.

She tucked the afghan over him and quietly left the room, to put the basket of medical supplies on the kitchen counter. Sirikat was perched on a bar stool in the corner, crying silently.

Sam stripped off the gloves she had been wearing and threw them in the trash, then took the younger woman in her arms. "He's going to be okay."

"This time," she replied.

"That's all we get," Carter replied. The weariness in her voice revealed that she no longer held any illusions about any inherent fairness of the universe.

Sirikat asked, "How many days will you and Jack let pass by? Is it such an awful thing to need to hold each other, if only just to keep warm against this cold night?"

"The regulations, Sirikat."

"May demons take the regulations! There is nothing of honor in some old men's foolish rules that would keep the two of you apart, when either of you or both of you together would spill your own hearts' blood to uphold your duty to your God and country!"

"Sirikat, if we can't keep the oath we swore to our country, what use would it be to make vows before God to each other?"

"Your leaders value your sacrifices too lightly. If they are such fools for too long, come with me to Daltregon and we wage our war against the Goa'uld from there."

"We haven't given up hope to have it all right here."

Sirikat nodded. No one had to explain stubborn pride to her. She finally said, "Patience is not always a good thing."

"I know."


A ways across town, Jonathan sat on the floor in Lydia's living room in front of the fireplace. Nancy was sprawled a little ways away from him, with a bowl of popcorn between them. Lydia sat between her mom's feet as the older woman, Celeste, picked pine needles out of her mop of curly red hair. Alvin was absorbed in some game on his handheld computer.

Last night, Celeste had smiled at General Hammond's alibi for them and turned her daughter's injured hands up to kiss each one. "Did you help catch the...guys in the car?"

Lydia had thought about that one for a second or two. "Yeah, Mom, we did."

"I've done things like that a few times, honey. The homicide detectives know who I am. And I'm sure the...driver of that car was...a terrifying person to come up against. I'm very proud of you."

Jonathan wondered if Alvin's poor excuse for a father had even paid any attention to the fact that his kid hadn't been home since Friday morning.

Friends are the family you choose, and Jonathan realized that he and Alvin were part of a family right here in this room. He'd tried to walk away from the SGC because he didn't have a place on SG-1, but destiny had taken some unexpected detours to put him together with these three people and throw them all back into the mountain.

Knowing what was out there beyond the gate, he wanted to keep them safely out of it, but that just wasn't something he could do. If the rest of them hadn't helped her, Jonathan had no doubt but that Lydia would have gotten herself in there alone somehow. She hadn't even known then that she'd ever even met the guy she was determined to rescue.

Nancy crunched a handful of hot buttery popcorn. "Penny for 'em."

He scooped up a handful of his own. "Not worth a penny."

"That's probably true," Alvin snickered.

"Hey!"

Celeste laughed. "Some people's children!"

Jonathan stretched out on the floor in the firelight. For a first "mission" they hadn't been half bad. Beginner's luck, sure, but they had been pretty good. Give them a few years and they might just give the "originals" a run for their money. Keep 'em on their toes, anyhow.


Sam stayed until time for Jack to take his next round of pills. She knew he wouldn't take his pain meds unless somebody watched him take them. After that, she helped Sirikat get him upstairs to his own bed.

It wasn't like he and Carter hadn't been sharing a tent for seven years. And it wasn't like she had never seen the inside of his bedroom before. But there was something about her standing beside his bed with Sirikat there too, while he was wounded and vulnerable, that made him feel very self-conscious.

Sirikat was oblivious. She went about the practicalities of filling his water-glass and making sure he had enough blankets.

Carter touched his hand hesitantly and he closed his fingers around hers for just a moment.

"I'll--uh--be back tomorrow, sir," she said. He let go reluctantly and she stammered something to Sirikat that contained the words "call if you need me." Then she practically ran down the stairs.

Sirikat snickered. He launched a pillow at her. "What's so funny?"

Her eyes sparkled with laughter. "You two."

"Sirikat--"

"Don't worry, as long as you're both pretending, I will too, but it...still ridiculous."

"That's life for ya."

The bed dipped as she sat beside him. She didn't start to work on his burns again until after his pain pills kicked in.

"Are the blocks strong enough?"

"Yeah, it's better than last time."

She was startled to realize that he was all but setting his own blocks. On closer inspection, it wasn't exactly a block, more of a moderating force that reduced the intensity of pain signals. "How does that spell work?"

"What?"

"That thing you're doing, right under my blocks."

"I'm not doin' anything."

"Then I blind as a bat. Don't tell me then--but you're doing something."

Jack woke up enough to open his eyes about halfway. "Sirikat, I have no clue what you're talking about."

"Whatever you say, it isn't a spell. What do you call going into a meditative state and making an injury hurt less?"

"I learned that in special ops training a long time ago. There's nothing magic about it. You visualize yourself cramming the pain into a box and putting it away where it can't hurt you any more."

Sirikat fished in her bag and pulled out the little clear quartz arrowhead she'd found when she'd been living here before. "Then I suppose it will not be magic when you visualize this lighting up, and it does."

He laughed. "No way, Punkin, I can't do anything like that."

"Try it anyway. It will be about as bright as a candle. That keep you distracted while I work, anyway."

Feeling stupid, he took the little arrowhead. She was right about one thing, it was a good focus point to keep his mind off having her tend his wounds.

A combination of the pain meds, the warm room and the comfort of his own bed, and the sense of safety he felt with Sirikat keeping watch, all worked together to let him slip very easily into a barely-aware meditative state. He imagined the crystal lit from within, and felt a tingle in his fingertips where they held the crystal.

It lit up like a Christmas tree, its facets casting rainbow lights over both of them. Startled, he dropped it to the quilt, where it continued to glow for a while before winking out.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"

Sirikat started laughing at the look on his face. "See, I told you!"

"Brat!" He scolded, but he couldn't help laughing himself. "That was so cool."

"Just practice with it," Sirikat giggled. "Try putting more energy in it so it will stay lit longer after you stop concentrating on it, or changing the color, or making it brighter or dimmer."

"I thought only the queens on your planet do magic."

"Oh, most everybody can do a light spell. And human kids who don't have a symbiote yet learn to hurry healing along. It's mostly the queens who really study it and learn the complex things, because we're expected to. But there are others too. This the real secret, though." She held out her hand, palm up, and her brows furrowed as she concentrated.

A brilliant white light glowed an inch above her hand, intense enough that it left spots before his eyes until she closed her fist over it and extinguished it. "The crystal is just a tool. You already know how to visualize and channel your will, that's all you really need. The magic is you."

"Sweet." He started to give the crystal back.

Sirikat smiled and shook her head. "I have the luck stone that General Hammond gave me. You keep this one."

"Thanks." Lying back, he concentrated on lighting it up again. Sirikat turned back to her work.

Half an hour later she had to stop and rest. There were only a few of the burns left that needed to be cleaned with the saline solution and dressed. "That should be a lot better."

He put the crystal down on his night stand. "Why do I get the feeling you just showed me how to keep an idiot busy?"

She giggled. "Not exactly, but my mother taught me this on a rainy day, I think."

"I'll bet you were a brat."

"Thank you so very much," she replied. "I doubt any of my parents would disagree with you, though." She turned out the lamp, so that the only light in the room came from the softly glowing crystal. "Sleep now."

"Night, Punkin." She left the room. He couldn't keep his eyes open until she reached the bottom of the stairs.


A jingle bell woke Sirikat sometime well before first light. She looked up the stairs to see a very determined little Jamie hiking his butt over the baby gate at the top of the stairs. She shot up the stairs and plucked him from the gate, placing her finger meaningfully over her lips.

He had stuffed toilet paper in the bells on the gate to keep them quiet, except for one that had lost its padding. It was still well into the night watch, the last two days had been miserable, and she wished she was still asleep, but she got enough brain cells working to suspect that was pretty smart for such a little kid. Somehow that wasn't a reassuring thought. She whisked him downstairs.

"Shh! Your father needs to sleep!"

"I'm hungry."

She took him into the kitchen and shut the door, hoping that the noise wouldn't carry upstairs. She opened the refrigerator. "Do you want a cheese sandwich?"

"Ice cream."

"Hot chocolate? Cereal? Jello?"

"Ice cream!"

"Hush!" She opened the freezer door. Eskimo pies. The gods were merciful. She gave him one and made herself a cup of tea.

As she had expected, he got more ice cream on than in him. She stuck a washcloth under the faucet and cleaned him up before he got the mess all over himself and the house as well.

She thought about putting him back to bed, but he didn't look sleepy and something needed to be done about that baby gate before he hurt himself climbing over it.

She took him into her room and closed the door.

"Is Daddy gonna go to heaven?"

"What?! No, child, not for a long long time! Why would you think that?"

"'Cause some bad guys hurt my mama and she went to heaven."

"Oh, Jamie!" Sirikat fell to her knees and held him close. "Your father had a really bad time of it, but he is home now and he is going to be fine." <P> "I don't want Daddy to go away any more! I want him to stay!"

"I am sure that he wishes he could. But what your daddy does, keeps you safe. He loves you so much that keeping you safe means more than anything."

"Why are you crying?"

"Because someone I loved very much went to heaven not very long ago. I was scared, too, when I saw Jack with bandages all over him. And I'm very relieved that he is going to be all right."

Jamie finally slept again, while Sirikat snuggled with him in the chair.


Sam came back early the next morning and she and Sirikat had coffee and donuts while they waited for time to give Jack his meds. Jamie had a glass of milk with his donut.

Brownie inhaled his puppy chow and then started untying Sirikat's sneakers. She tied them back with a stern "No!" to the puppy. Not that it made the slightest difference to Brownie. Puppy chews. Two-legged creature scolds. Rinse, repeat.

Sam asked, "How were the Colonel's burns looking?"

"There are a few stubborn ones that are really going to scar. I think your plastic surgeons could do him more good than I, at this point."

"He won't sit still long enough for that, and I don't think Janet can order him to have something elective done," Sam replied. "The sooner he's up and around, the better, believe me."

"I know, I looked after him after he was shot with that dart on Parada, remember?"

"That's right, you did. Did he get any sleep last night?"

"If he didn't, he was very quiet about being awake. No thanks to Jamie. He was awake very early in the morning. I think the gate has outlived its usefulness. He stuffed the bells with toilet paper and climbed over it."

Sam laughed. "He's quick for his age. Not the climbing, exactly, but the bells. I'll have to ask Dad what Mark and I were like at that age. I'll ask the Colonel what to do about the safety gate, but I think you're right, we'll have to take it down and make sure he can't get outside the house." She took O'Neill's pills upstairs with a hot cup of coffee and a couple of donuts.

The aroma of fresh coffee woke O'Neill. "Hey. That's what I call four-star room service."

"Janet would probably quibble about the caffeine, sir, but Sirikat says you're a lot better, so what Janet doesn't know won't hurt her." Sam was more than a little nervous about being in Jack's room. Not that she didn't have a reason to be here, of course.

He took the cup, swearing at a set of burns on the back and front of his wrist. His casual bitching about it reassured Carter more than anything that he was well on the mend. When it had been really bad he'd shut everything down behind a steel wall.

The coffee was strong, hot and black, just as he liked it. He set the cup down on the stand, and the crystal arrowhead caught his attention.

"Hey, Carter. Put that stuff down for a minute, I want to show you something. Watch this." He held the crystal, almost had it, but lost his concentration when Jamie squealed at Sirikat for something. It was just a noisy little kid squeal, not something he needed to worry about. Second time was the charm.

Carter jumped about three feet when light flared from the crystal. "Holy Hannah! How did you do that?"

"It's just visualization. Is that what you do to use the Goa'uld doohickies?"

"Essentially, yes."

"Here, you try it."

Sam took the arrowhead, triggering the same responses that would have activated a Goa'uld device. Nothing happened. "I can't quite get it, but then, I've never been good at this. The Goa'uld and the Tok'ra don't use unset stones. Maybe I need a setting with naquada in it to make it work," she speculated.

O'Neill could see the little wheels turning. "You're not saying this is really magic, are you?"

"I don't have enough information to give you a definitive answer, sir, but I tend to think there's probably a rational explanation. My question is, what else can you do?"

"I don't know," he replied. "I wonder if this is anything like Janet's green fire."

Sam said, "She's only been able to do that in the lab a couple of times. Again, Colonel, we just haven't been able to collect enough data."

"Sirikat doesn't need the crystal. She says I don't."

Carter turned the arrowhead in her hands, as if she expected it to give up its secrets if she stared at it hard enough. "Well, do you, sir?"

"I don't know." O'Neill felt like he was right on the edge of the Grand Canyon. If he reached out for the crystal's promise, would he fall or fly?


That day Jack was doing better. Cassie had told Sirikat to call if she wanted her to cover her shift at the day care, but the young queen decided it might be better if she made herself scarce for a few hours and took Jamie with her. Jack and Sam wouldn't break the regulations, but they might bend them a little if there were no witnesses around.

It was a brilliant late autumn day, but the quickly approaching winter made itself known in the bite of the wind. Leaves swirled in the air and skittered on the sidewalk around her as she walked to Jonathan's car and put Jamie in.

"Hey, I don't have a kid seat for him."

"I know, I want you to hold him while I get it out of the truck. Otherwise he run up the street! He's been Taz since 0300h."

Jonathan rolled his eyes at her uniquely Sirikat combination of American colloquialisms and Daltregonian phrasing. "C'mere, kiddo," Jonathan told Jamie. He held the child on his lap while Sirikat pushed Lassie to the other side of the back seat and buckled the seatbelt into place around the safety seat. Jamie put up his usual fuss about the car seat but then they were off.

The Monday afternoon shift was pretty quiet. The four Griff girls were there, as well as Jamie's little playmate Jeffery Norris, the son of Major Griff's exec. Jonathan asked, "Did Six go out? I thought Hammond had everyone on stand-down for a few days."

Gloria Murphy replied, "Something came up unexpectedly."

They all knew what that meant. SG-6 was one of the two US Marine teams and when they went out "unexpectedly", it was usually because one of the other teams just called 911 and needed a Force Recon bail out. Jonathan found himself wondering which of Jack's friends were in trouble and trying to figure out who had been offworld during the foothold. If they could do their jobs without worrying about their children, then Jonathan was doing his job. He and Sirikat took a walk around the back yard prior to letting the kids outside to play.

Nothing was out of place. Jonathan helped the sisters rake up all the leaves into a big pile for jumping in, while Sirikat kept Jonathan and Jeffery busy chasing her and throwing soccer balls at her. She let them catch her often enough to keep them interested, hoping Jamie would burn off enough energy to sleep the night through.

Jonathan watched the Griff girls acting like any other little girls their age, with a great deal of satisfaction. When they had first been rescued from the NID bastards who had cloned them, they hadn't known there was such a place as "outside" the cold drab basement laboratory where they had lived the first few years of their lives. They had been terrorized by their first foray into the great outdoors. Several months of patient love by her adoptive parents and the whole SGC later, they had blossomed. There would always be scars, but they had a chance at a normal life now.

Sometimes you won the big ones.


Jack stretched out on the couch watching some old Eastwood movie on TV, three quarters asleep. Sam had just thrown a load of laundry in the dryer. The phone rang once before she got it. Presently she came in and brought him a cup of hot soup.

"Who was that?"

"Janet," she laughed. "She won't be able to come by tonight because she's swamped. Nothing serious, apparently that chieftain on 884 decided she wanted Lou for a mate and doped them up to make sure they stayed for the wedding." She controlled her laughter long enough to howl, "Griff won 'em back in a poker game, but they got into some really good local hooch, and now they're all in Janet's infirmary, three sheets to the wind! Anyway, I told her that you'd keep fine until morning--unless you think I should run you up there this evening?"

Jack laughed. "God, no. I'll bet she's glad she let me out of there when she did!"

Sam grinned. "Yes, sir, I'm sure you're right." She sat down on the floor. "Oh, hey, here's the car chase."

O'Neill laughed. "Y'know, we'd been in the same unit for over six years before I found out you were a closet speed freak."

She laughed. "I guess you thought the same thing everyone else did, that I was working my way into NASA? I wanted to fly the planes."

"So what happened?"

"Hit a glass ceiling," she answered honestly. "Apparently we were ready for female pilots in the Gulf and right after, but not for female squadron commanders. I was a few years too early for that. After the Gulf I did a rotation at the Pentagon, then I came out to Area 51, from there to here and you know the rest."

Jack said, "Your squadron's loss was the SGC's gain. When I went in I never expected to spend most of my career jumping out of airplanes instead of flying them. Or much less the Stargate. Funny the way things work out."

"Sir, I didn't think. Do you want me and my hair to go someplace else?"

"No. I've got that one licked--when I'm awake anyhow."

She nodded, without needing to say a word. There were any number of things that didn't bother her any more--in the daytime.

"Carter?"

"Sir?"

"You weren't serious about coloring your hair, were you?"

"Only if you hadn't been able to work through the trigger, and I didn't seriously think you wouldn't. God only knows, we've all had enough experience. But if it had been a hard one to get rid of--I don't give a damn what color my hair is. I'd go brunette in a New York minute if you were still having problems with it."

Everything that she did give a damn about shined in her eyes, bright enough to get them both court-martialed and locked up for the next twenty years--if anyone had been there to see it. But since no one was, no harm, no foul. Jack reached out and wooled up her hair just to get her to laugh, he couldn't hear enough of her laughter.

Brownie had been curled up in a small curly-haired ball beside the TV, but apparently nap time was over. He got up, stretched, then scrambled across Carter and up onto Jack's chest.

"Ow! Damn it, Brownie! You're worse than some cat with those sharp little toenails!" Somehow the pup had managed to rip the dressing off one of the few remaining serious burns. Sam saw a blood stain dot the old tee shirt Jack was wearing.

Brownie knew Jack meant business when he reached for a rolled-up newspaper, and raced to the safety of his puppy pen. Carter shut the door and held out her hands to help Jack up.

She saw the devilish glint in his eyes a second too late to stop her forward momentum when he pulled her off balance, then caught her before she could land in a heap on top of him.

For a moment they were more than content to just lie there, with nothing in their world outside these four walls. In seven years Jack could count on his fingers the times he'd had her in his arms. All but maybe one or two of those times had been something like thirty seconds after they'd almost got themselves killed or thirty seconds before they had thought they were going to.

Jack closed his eyes, staying in the moment for as long as it lasted. All too soon they had to step back across the line, but for now, he wanted to remember how she felt in his arms, her warmth, her light weight, the light floral scent of her shampoo, the silky softness of her blouse. For these few precious moments he could hope for a time when they could be more than ranks and last names and "sir."

Eventually he had to get up and go upstairs to re-bandage his injury. Sam couldn't help watching him pull his shirt off as he stepped into the bathroom at the top of the stairs to wash up. She stepped into his room to get the basket of medical supplies.

Jack hissed a little when the soap stung, but otherwise he was unphased by that chore. Kids born since the last time he'd been concerned about cleaning up something like this had kids of their own by now. But Carter's appreciative glance hadn't been lost on him. He wasn't too proud to admit, to himself anyway, that he liked still being able to catch her eye at his age.

The puppy's little claws had gone to the bone in a couple places, not that much had grown back there yet anyway. He resigned himself to the lecture he was going to get from Fraiser tomorrow morning, if Sirikat couldn't do more with it this evening.

Sam took care of that one and the one on his wrist. The rest, thanks to Sirikat's help, were healed over, if still tender. He was still sore and very tired, but he had full range of motion back. There was no reason that he could see why Fraiser wouldn't release him for light duty tomorrow. He might just sneak in under her radar if he played his cards right, and if Ferretti and Griff and their outfits raised enough hell before they sobered up.

Jack pulled on one of the scrub tops that Janet had sent home with him. They went back downstairs to wait for Sirikat and Jamie to get in. Carter sat in the recliner.

Jack figured the puppy had been exiled to his pen long enough and opened the door. He went back to the couch and covered up with the afghan to avoid a repeat performance.

Jonathan's car pulled up in the driveway behind the truck. Jonathan brought Jamie inside while Sirikat put the car seat back in its usual place. She went back to Jonathan's car to get the Chinese take-out that they had brought for dinner.

Since they hadn't known how many would be there, they had a selection of containers. That was a good thing because as soon as Jack smelled food he caught up on a couple of days without an appetite. Sam went in the kitchen for paper plates.

Sam rolled up some mu shu filling in a thin pancake. Jamie gave it the suspicious eye until Sam persuaded him to take a bite, and then he was hooked just like the rest of them.

Jonathan helped himself to rice and General Tso's Chicken. "Can I ask about SG-6 going out?"

Sam retold that, skimming over places and classified details. Those were blanks that Jonathan could fill in easily enough on his own. It was just as funny the second time she told it.

Jonathan still felt a bittersweet ache whenever he was around her, but like all the memories he shared with Jack, it was fading like an old photograph--still there, all the details still in focus, but viewed through a sepia-toned veil of time and held at bay by the real memories of his own making. Sam Carter would always have a place in his heart and there was nothing he wouldn't do if she asked, but she wasn't his. He could move on and one day find that woman who would be to him what Sam was to Jack. At least he would know real love when he found it.

Brownie wanted scraps, but Jamie was getting the idea that puppies who ate too much table scraps didn't eat enough puppy food.

After dinner, Jonathan took a screwdriver upstairs to remove the baby gate while Sam and Sirikat put latches high on the doors and screen doors to keep Jamie from getting outside at night. Jack took the chance to spend some time reading to Jamie. Between them they polished off the last of the fried noodles that had come with the won ton soup.

When he had put the gate in the charity box in the garage, Jonathan said good evening. He had a few things to do for school the next day.

Jamie asked, "Are you going to be at Mrs. Murphy's tomorrow?"

"Not in the daytime on a school day, remember? I have classes. I'll be there Thursday evening and...right now I think Sunday morning."

"Who's tomorrow?"

"Jamie, I didn't pay any attention. I just looked to see what my schedule was."

"Then I don't wanna go to day care!"

Jack said, "Hey! We've talked before about whining about day care. That's the way it is."

Jamie pouted, but didn't argue any more. He had learned when his father was serious about an end to the back talk. Sam said, "I think it's time for your bath, Jamie."

Sirikat closed the front door when Jonathan pulled out from the curb.

"What's this with the day care again? Did something happen today?" Jack asked her.

"No...it's more that he's afraid of something happening to you."

"I should have thought of that. His mom was murdered and he saw the attack. He's afraid the same thing will happen to anyone else that he lets get out of his sight. I sure didn't help. Maybe I shouldn't have let him see me like this."

"He has to live in the real world. I don't know how to pretend to him that bad things never happen," Sirikat said helplessly.

"That's the only way we can look at it," Jack told her. "Sirikat, I had wanted to retire in a few months and being here for Jamie was one of the main reasons why. But something came up in Washington and I had to put that off. Gloria sees more of him than I do." He knew he sounded petulant and envious, but he didn't care. Kids stayed small for such a short time and the days were slipping through his fingers.

"I thought I did the right thing by taking him with me this afternoon so that you could rest."

"You did," Jack assured her. "Everything will be pretty much back to normal tomorrow, and he'll get back into his routine."

Sirikat nodded. "He wasn't the only one you scared," she admitted.

"Looked lots worse than it was, you know that."

"I know."

"Sirikat, I'm glad you were here to help out with him. You're good with him."

"I hope so. In a year or two it will be time for me to brood and--it really scares me. I'm not ready to be a mother. With all the awful things that happen, I just don't know about bringing little ones into this world."

"Queen symbiotes don't have a choice about having babies, do you?"

"Yes and no. I can delay it for a few months, but...this is just the way the gods made us." There was such a look of sadness on her face that Jack pulled her close and held her.

"Look. I think you're too damn young, and you'll still be too young in a couple of years. But Daltregon isn't Earth, and I think Vanira would probably agree with me that you're going to be a terrific mother. I can see it in how you are with Jamie and the other kids." Jack rubbed her back. "Take it one day at a time, Punkin. That's all any of us gets."

Sirikat tended the last of his burns before they turned in that night.



  
The next morning, the SGC infirmary was crowded but silent except for snoring. Fraiser waved O'Neill to Exam 1, and shut the door behind them. "They didn't get to sleep until about 0430h." She still looked frazzled.

"Had your hands full, huh?"

Fraiser answered with a groan. "We had Mardi Gras in here last night. You're looking a lot better."

"I kept Sirikat busy over the weekend."

"Let's have a look."

Twenty minutes later, she said, "Everything's doing very well, except for the ones on your chest and wrist. You might want to keep a light dressing on some of the others for a little while, just to protect them from your clothing until they toughen up a little more. Now, those deeper ones, I'd recommend skin grafts because otherwise you'll have some bad scars."

O'Neill gave her a skeptical look. "How bad a scar can something leave if it's small enough to fit under a band-aid?"

Fraiser shook her head. "I'm not getting into an argument with you over something elective. You've got my recommendation."

"Did I actually win one?"

Fraiser grinned. "I guess you did. Better mark your calendar. It isn't likely to happen again." She gave him a long look. "Have you been sleeping? Any flashbacks?"

"A minor one. I don't think it'll come back. And I slept all weekend."

"OK. You're all right medically, just the expected results of severe stress. I'm going to sign off on light duty and driving privileges, but I still want you to rest as much as you can for a few more days."

O'Neill promised everything he had to, in order to get her to sign off. After escaping the infirmary, he took a mug of coffee to his office and settled in to write his report. It had taken three damn days to write the one after Ba'al, reliving everything he'd tried to put on paper. This time, having since then been falsely accused of murder, he was more concerned about wording something that could be twisted around to make Fraiser or Carter look guilty of something. When he was satisfied he walked it over to Hammond's office.

Hammond took it. "So can I stamp this one and file it, son?"

"That would be my recommendation, sir."

"What did Fraiser say?"

"A few days' light duty," he said dismissively. "I'm good to go as soon as she gets over the mother hen kick she's on right now, sir."

"This happened in her infirmary. And on my watch."

"Everybody's watch, sir, especially mine--I was the first one the son of a bitch blindsided. We can do some things to make it harder for another incident like this to happen, but we can't make the SGC bulletproof against everything aliens with previously unknown powers might do."

Hammond nodded. "Cost of doing business?"

O'Neill nodded. "Yes, sir. There's no choice except to keep going through the gate. We're playing catch-up with a lot of folks who've got a really long head start on us, and we don't have forever to get ourselves into the race. This isn't the last time we're gonna run across something nasty. I don't want anybody to let what happened to me scare us out of doing our jobs, so, yes, sir. It's just the cost of doing business. Would you like anything from the cafeteria before we get started with these preliminary assessments, General?"

This was the busiest time of day in the cafeteria, and everyone who had been in the base during the foothold with the exception of O'Neill, Carter and Fraiser had snapped out of it there. Now O'Neill was going to stroll down there, carry on a little with whoever was in line, and act like everything was back to business as usual. The base grapevine would do the rest. By the time he got back here, things would be back to business as usual.

"Thank you, Colonel, a chicken salad sandwich if they have it."

Hammond shook his head as he watched his 2iC go. Someday the world would know what it owed that man, his friend.

Within this base they already knew.

end

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