ShaViva's Stargate Fan ... Stuff


Twelve Days

Author: ShaViva

Rating: T+

Season: Season 1, AU, after 'Politics' ; when I've decided Christmas would have been!

Summary: It's Christmas at the SGC. Daniel and Teal'c are away, leaving Sam and Jack to work through the holidays. What trouble will they find? Written for the Team Flyboy 12 Days Challenge.

Classifications: Drama/Romance

Pairings: Jack/Sam pre-ship

Key warnings: None really

Other warnings: Unbeta'd – errors minimized as best I can but some minor ones will probably creep in.

Spoilers for: Everything in Season 1 up to episode 120 – Politics.

Acknowledgements: I used Gateworld/Stargate Wiki transcripts to check details here and there.

Disclaimer: I am unfortunately not associated in any way with the creators, owners, or producers of Stargate or any of its media franchises, which is obvious because they'd be making movies for us right now! All publicly recognizable characters, settings, equipment, etc are the property of whoever owns them. Any original characters, plot, settings, and anything else I made up are the property of me, the author. No copyright infringement is intended.

Copyright (c) 2011 ShaViva

Chapter 1: A Partridge in a Pear Tree

"A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality."

John Lennon

How had it happened? Samantha Carter looked around her lab with dismay. In a little over an hour it would be midnight and yet here she was, at the SGC, puttering around her lab.

Alone, on Christmas Eve.

Daniel has taken the opportunity to return to his roots, joining a dig in Egypt for the two weeks SG-1 was on holiday stand down. He'd been like a school boy at the start of a new year, eager to return and play with his friends, genuinely happy as Sam hadn't seen since they'd lost Sha're.

Teal'c wasn't there either. He'd volunteered to accompany a special team off world on a humanitarian mission to assist an community hit hard by a landslide. The team, designated SG-0, was composed of members from various SG teams – those without family or who were unable to return home for the holidays for whatever reason. Sam had briefly considered tagging along too but decided in the end to concentrate on a couple of research projects she hadn't had time to pursue previously. Teal'c rarely spoke of his home, rarely showed that he missed his son, but Sam knew the only thing that kept him from returning to Chulak was the continuing safety and protection of his family. It seemed fitting that he would include himself in a mission to render assistance where he could.

That only left herself and Colonel O'Neill, and since she'd found herself trapped in an icy prison with the Colonel, feeling things she had no business feeling for her commanding officer, she'd deliberately steered her thoughts clear of any reflections centred around him. She had no idea where he was, or even if he had plans for Christmas Day. She'd guess not – with what had happened to his son surely any kind of special occasion would be bittersweet.

It was a sad commentary on her life that Sam had so little to fill it, outside of work. Holidays always brought the status of her life to the forefront and had her thinking about what she didn't have. No true family connections to speak of – much as she enjoyed being an Aunt she just didn't get to see her niece and nephew enough to have real importance in their lives. No 'significant' relationships either … and no prospects anywhere on the horizon. She met lots of new people regularly and worked on a base loaded with plenty of male 'talent' – off world contacts and military men she'd sworn off of after Jonas. There was nothing there for her.

"What about Colonel O'Neill?" The thought ran through her mind and she ruthlessly squelched it. Jonathon "Jack" O'Neill was so far out of her league even the Stargate wouldn't get her there. It didn't matter how rapidly her heart beat when he got too close, or how intriguing she found him. The regulations were pretty clear and Samantha Carter was a by the book kind of girl. Besides, just because she found herself thinking about the Colonel way too much, it didn't mean he was returning the favour. Should she wish otherwise or count herself lucky to be alone in her predicament?

With a sigh Sam returned her attention to her work, forcing herself to proceed step by step through her investigation into a device SG-6 had brought back from P5E-343 a few weeks ago. About the size of a large mixing bowl it was domed and covered in symbols Daniel was still working to translate. It looked to be made of a similar material to the Stargate itself but so far nothing she'd done had enabled her to even see its internal construction, let alone work out what it did. She'd tried a few standard approaches to powering it up without success and was running out of ideas for more. Maybe it was just that her heart wasn't really in the work that night – she couldn't find the zone where scientific endeavour could absorb her attention to the exclusion of everything else.

It was silly, but her aloneness itself was distracting her, crazy as that sounded. She was used to being alone … why should the fact that it was Christmas Eve make a difference? Samantha Carter was nothing if not stubborn though, so she kept at it, despite her lack of progress.

The quiet 'beep beep' of her watch a short while later was a brief interruption, letting her know the new day had clicked over. "Merry Christmas," she whispered to herself, glancing around her lab with a sad smile. This was the life she'd chosen for herself … best to get used to it.

"Carter. You still here?"

Sam took a steadying breath before looking up to see Jack O'Neill, lounging casually in her doorway.

"Yes Sir," she said, even though his question hadn't required an answer. Obviously she was still here … and so was he. "Isn't it a little late for you too sir?"

"Nah," he thrust his hands into his pockets and rocked back on his heels, regarding her with one of those unreadable expressions. The kind that made her both long and fear to know what he was thinking. "You don't have plans for the big day?" he glanced around her lab, before returning his attention to her.

"No Sir," Sam replied. He didn't need to know that she didn't get along with her father and as a result didn't welcome spending Christmas with her brother and his family either. General Jacob Carter turned up every year because by damn, that was his duty. Mark continued to resent the military for the impact it had had on their family and inevitably a heated discussion ensued. Sam always ended up in the middle and under attack from both sides – because she saw both points of view when Mark and her Dad wanted her to see only their one side. "My brother is taking the kids to Disneyland in a couple of days – it didn't seem worth the trip just for one day's celebration."

"Right," Jack nodded, looking around uncertainly for a moment. "So you're spending Christmas here?"

"Janet – Doctor Fraiser – invited me to lunch later today," Sam smiled. "Honestly, I'm enjoying the peace and quiet – makes for a nice change."

The Gateroom alarm was abrupt and loud, accompanied by the voice of Walter Harriman over the loudspeaker. "Unscheduled off world activation."

"You just had to say it - you had to mention the peace and quiet," Colonel O'Neill sent her a teasing, exasperated look before motioning with his head towards the door. "You coming?"

"It's probably just SG-0 needing more supplies," Sam said, remaining where she was.

"Yes, well, perhaps Jaffa Claus miscalculated the number of presents he'd need tonight," Jack's eyes twinkled. Since Teal'c arrived on Earth he'd been fascinated with television in general, and in the recent weeks in Christmas movies in particular. The idea that a jolly man in a red suit could visit every child and deliver gifts, all in one night, both puzzled and intrigued him. The Jaffa warrior had probably watched more seasonal movies than Sam had in her entire life, and had questioned his team mates extensively in an effort to understand all the nuances of the concept, much to the amusement of the rest of SG-1.

"Jaffa Claus Sir?" Sam smiled. "Does Teal'c know that's what you're calling him?"

"Of course," Jack grinned, "not."

Sam laughed. "I think you should tell him Sir. I'm sure he'd be flattered."

"Maybe," Jack allowed. He'd remained close to the door but now took a few steps into the room, eyeing the device she'd been working on. "What you got there?"

"I have no idea," Sam admitted. "SG-6 brought it back from P5E-343 but I never had a chance to look at it before now. It's actually pretty interesting Sir – I think it's composed of the same material as the Stargate and although I've been unable to detect any kind of power source it seems there's some kind of shielding stopping me from seeing the inside."

"A present Captain Carter can't unwrap?" Jack's brow rose and he moved to stand beside her to take a closer look.

Sam felt the air around her warm as his heat permeated her space; she felt jumpy inside, like something was about to happen and she didn't know whether it would be good or bad. Suddenly being alone didn't seem like such a bad idea if it would stop the confusing reactions and thoughts she had about Colonel O'Neill.

"Yet, Sir," she corrected firmly.


Jack gave her a sidelong glance, their eyes meeting and holding for just a little too long. His were a deep, rich brown – inviting her, no urging her to throw caution to the wind and jump right in. Blinking, she refocused. "I haven't found a way to open it yet Sir," she restated.

"Well, I'm sure you will eventually," Jack reached out and prodded the device, just the briefest touch of his finger against the surface.

Blue light and a high pitched hum flashed out from the dome, growing in intensity and volume until the entire room was engulfed. When the device hit its peak, there was a flash and a chorus of sound, and then abruptly it stopped.

The room was silent … and empty. No trace of Sam and Colonel O'Neill and no evidence to indicate what had happened to them. It was as though they had never been there at all.


Chapter 2: Two Turtle Doves

"Love, like a river, will cut a new path whenever it meets an obstacle."

Crystal Middlemas

"What the hell?" Jack O'Neill squinted into the darkness, finding nothing familiar aside from the silhouette of Samantha Carter standing in front of him. "Carter?" he queried, that one word demanding an explanation.

"I don't know Sir," Sam replied, her tone a combination of puzzled and annoyed over not having an immediate answer.

"Can you at least hazard a guess?"

"We're not at the SGC anymore," the Captain stated the obvious.

"Well even I can see that," Jack retorted impatiently. "Why are we not at the SGC anymore?"

"That device must act as a kind of transporter," Sam suggested. "You activated it somehow."

"Me?" Jack frowned.

"When you touched it," Sam expanded.

"It wasn't me," he sounded like a petulant child refusing to take the blame for breaking something, but it was all he had. Since he'd barely even looked at Carter's "toy" it seemed more than a little unfair she was blaming him for their current situation.

"Ah, sorry Sir, but it must have been," Sam replied.

"No it mustn't," Jack retorted. "All I did was touch the damn thing for a second."

"I'm not sure how but it's the only explanation that makes any sense," Carter insisted. "Prior to your arrival I'd made repeated contact with the device over a span of hours and attempted to power it up using every available option. The device was completely dormant until you touched it."

"So you're saying I'm some kind of … battery for alien devices?" Jack asked, sceptical.

"I wouldn't say that, although clearly something about you did have an effect," Sam's tone shifted into scientific revelation, her manner one Jack had become too familiar with. She'd sprout some probably brilliant and illuminating explanations that he wouldn't understand a word of - mostly because he found it hard to concentrate on what she was saying when she got all flushed and glowy with 'geek' excitement. "The only power source big enough to effect a full matter transportation is the Stargate itself. Without being able to run tests I can't say for sure, but I believe that the device interacted with the gate system. It would have taken at least a few minutes to resupply SG-0 so it's possible their wormhole was still open."

"That device created a wormhole and sucked us … here?" That didn't sound good. His vision had adjusted to the darkness enough that he'd begun to make out a few details. They were in what looked like a storage facility – lots of boxes surrounding them and fading off into the distance. "And where exactly is here?"

"At this point I don't know Sir," Sam replied grimly.

"Just great," Jack muttered, turning away, his thoughts circling. It was too soon since the last time he'd been stuck in a remote location with Samantha Carter. He hadn't completely rebuilt his defences and the last thing he needed was more of the same. She distracted the hell out of him and he was more than a little surprised she hadn't worked that out.

"I don't suppose you have a torch on you, do you Sir?" Sam asked hopefully.

"This was an unexpected trip Carter," Jack returned. "I packed light."

"I'm sorry Sir."

"Since you just finished telling me this is my fault I don't think apologies are necessary," Jack said sarcastically. "Just tell me you have an idea for getting us home."

"There's no sign of the device and we don't have any idea where we are," Sam summarised their predicament succinctly.

"So that's a no then," Jack quipped. He thought for a moment. "So if you did know where we were, would you be able to get us home?"

"If we can find a Stargate, yes," Sam hesitated before continuing. "I hate to say it Sir –"

"Then don't," Jack interrupted.

Sam smiled and then shook her head. "I don't think it's an accident we're here – wherever here is. There wasn't an option to choose a destination. Clearly we're not where Teal'c and the others went, and I think it's unlikely we're on P5E-343 either. If that device was programmed to come here, specifically I mean, then it's probably because this planet doesn't have a Stargate. Maybe there's a connection to 343, but I can't guess what it might be."

"We're stuck here?" Jack cut to the chase.

"There's always hope Sir," Sam replied diplomatically. "We could be somewhere on Earth …"

Like last time. Neither of them spoke the words although their unplanned trip to Antarctica was at the forefront of both their minds.

"The device is still in my lab – as soon as they realise we're missing General Hammond will assign someone to investigate," Carter reminded him. "Doctor Lee will at the very least look at what I was working on last. With any luck there will be some evidence of our location for him to find."

"Yes … with any luck," Jack repeated carefully. Turning away he thrust his hands into his pockets, frustration stiffening his posture. Great as he thought Carter was – and let's face it, his regard for her was way up there – he didn't want to be stranded with her. That close, spending the kind of hours together you did when you were in a difficult situation and only had each other to rely on, was too big a risk. He'd let something slip and then she'd know his distraction around her had little to do with being 'too dumb' to understand her and way too much to do with being very attracted to her. He was her commanding officer – he didn't get to be attracted to her. Even if that wasn't the case, she deserved someone way better than a man with a core of darkness fuelled by tragic mistakes and past actions.

It must have been very early morning when they'd arrived. Now, sunlight hit the windows high in the nearest wall, sending welcome light inside to illuminate their surroundings. Jack had been right – they were in a storage facility full of crates stacked in rows around them. His eyes went straight to the printing on the outside and his shoulders slumped a little as he registered the details. He didn't need Daniel to tell him the language, whatever the hell it said, wasn't from anywhere on Earth.

He and Carter really were stranded, alone, off world, together.

"Let's find a way out of here," Jack ordered, moving forward. Carter hesitated and then fell into step beside him.


Chapter 3: Three French Hens

"There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign."

Robert Louis Stevenson

The light in the large warehouse style space increased as the sun continued to rise. Sam followed Colonel O'Neill as they slowly made their way towards one of the walls and then tracked it in one direction. If the architects of whatever world they were on had any kind of logical approach, eventually they should come to a door.

They didn't speak as they walked, even though Sam really wanted to apologise again for their situation. Although she'd suggested the Colonel set off the device, Sam was the one who'd decided to investigate it. She should have just gone home for Christmas Eve instead of avoiding her completely empty house in favour of the SGC. If she were honest, deep down she'd decided that being there, where Colonel O'Neill was likely to be, where Daniel and Teal'c would come back to, was preferable to her own home. Over the past months since SG-1 was formed, somehow the three men had become her surrogate family. Daniel was the younger brother who needed her help, in a subtle kind of way, Teal'c the older, wiser brother who was always there to offer advice. Colonel O'Neill was … some would assume she'd say a father figure of sorts but she couldn't lie about that either. No way would she ever see him as any kind of parental figure – he was worlds away from her own father, much too young and way too attractive for that. Of course she had no idea how old Jack O'Neill actually was – he just seemed much younger than her own father, closer to Sam's own age. Not that it mattered of course. Out of bounds, she reminded herself firmly, returning her thoughts to their surroundings.

"I wonder what's in these crates," the Colonel commented as they found the third corner and turned ninety degrees to continue their search. Many of the crates were stacked against the walls so they had to weave in and out as they passed row after row of non descript box shapes. There were no signs of dust, no spider webs, nothing to indicate the passage of time but still Sam was sure no one had walked the same path in a very long time.

"Daniel could probably translate for us Sir," Sam replied. How she wished Daniel were with them right then. It was a selfish thought because it meant he'd be just as stranded as they were but the archaeologist was an effective buffer and the kind of chaperone who never even noticed that there were undercurrents to interpret.

"Ah, but we don't have Daniel, now do we Carter?" Jack returned, nodding his head towards the crates. "You spent hours staring at that device – is the writing on these anything like the symbols on that?"

It was a good question and one she should have considered herself already. She was off her game, being snatched away when she least expected it. Giving herself a mental shake, Sam focused on the nearest crate, her eyes narrowing as she looked at the symbols closely. "I don't think so Sir," she finally concluded.

"So why would anyone want a device that's a one way ticket to just the one location?"

"It's actually pretty clever Sir," Sam countered. "Assuming it is possible to enter different destinations, it would allow the gate builders to transport materials without the need of a Stargate. That could be how they built new Stargates, harnessing the power of one gate to transport everything they needed to the new location. Any team they transported wouldn't have to worry about getting stuck somewhere because they were building their own means to return, once the job was done."

"So this place was next up for its own Stargate?" Jack glanced around curiously, looking for evidence of what made it worthy of such an honour.

"I suppose so Sir," Sam answered. "We don't really know why some planets have Stargates while others don't. Whatever criteria they used, this planet must have qualified."

"Well, it does seem like a nice, quiet place to get away from it all," Jack quipped.

Appreciating his levity in a crisis, Sam was about to make a response when they rounded one of the larger crates and the door came into view.

"Finally," Jack strode forward purposefully.

Sam followed, her eyes narrowing as she worked out their next problem. "No handle," she commented, stopping a step away from the door, the Colonel beside her. "No external controls either." She moved closer, running her hands over the door before turning her investigations to the walls on either side.

"There has to be something," Jack said impatiently.

"Not necessarily Sir," Sam pointed out. "If this were a bank vault for example you wouldn't expect to be able to open it from the inside, would you?"

"So you're saying this is some kind of security feature?" Jack scowled, clearly not liking that idea.

"Maybe," Sam agreed absently, her fingers detecting a minute ridge on the right side of the door. Getting her fingernails inside she pulled. Nothing happened so she pulled harder, putting some force behind it. There was a sudden click and then the panel she'd discovered came away from the wall. With no counterbalance she tumbled back, expecting to hit the floor painfully.

Instead her back connected with the strong male chest of Jack O'Neill, the gust of breath he expelled on impact wafting through her short hair. His hands gripped her shoulders to steady her, the heat from his palms felt through her BDU shirt as though there were nothing between his skin and hers.

Flushing she pulled away quickly, muttering an embarrassed "sorry Sir," without looking at him.

"If those controls open this door you're forgiven Carter," the Colonel excused.

"Let's see then," Sam leaned closer, her fingers tracking the crystals and connecting cables she'd revealed. They emitted a soft blue glow so power wasn't going to be an issue. The design wasn't one she'd seen before but there was nothing to suggest there was anything wrong with the controls. "Maybe the sensor hasn't detected us," she mused, waving her hand back and forth over the open panel. She was watching carefully so she saw the way the crystals flashed red before settling back into pale blue. Eyes narrowed she glanced at Colonel O'Neill speculatively.

"What?" he asked, eying her suspiciously.

"You try it Sir," she suggested.

"Just because I accidentally set off one device doesn't mean I can do it again Carter," he complained even as he shifted closer and waved a hand halfheartedly near the panel.

The light inside intensified immediately and with a whoosh the door opened. "Okay, that's just … disturbing," Jack commented, peering carefully out into the corridor revealed.

"But useful Sir," Sam pointed out. From a scientific point of view the idea that technology could be designed to respond only to certain individuals intrigued her. What was it about Colonel O'Neill specifically that made this particular technology work for him when clearly it didn't work for her? The idea that there was something different about the Colonel didn't surprise her - he was contrary enough on every level; now she knew that was more than just skin deep.

"Much as I'd love to stop and explore the concept, we should get out of here," the Colonel said sarcastically after Sam continued to contemplate him and the door controls.

She flushed, nodding quickly to signal her readiness to proceed.

Pausing to check the corridor again, O'Neill motioned for her to follow, leading the way down a short corridor that ended in a t-junction. Jack paused again and then signalled right. His instincts proved effective – a few moments later they came to another door. This time Colonel O'Neill didn't offer any kind of protest, waving his hand over the hidden control panel before Sam could ask. This door responded to him too, sliding open silently to reveal a world outside, bathed in mid morning sunshine.

Everything had been so quiet inside the building that Sam had been expecting the apparent desertedness to continue once they were outside. Instead the sight that greeted them had her looking at O'Neill, for once completely lost for words.

The rise of his brows was the only reaction she could read from him as he looked at the procession of people before them. Men and women, young and old, children too, sitting, standing, all clearly waiting for something. They lined the street on both sides starting about a 100 yards from Sam and Jack's position, the natural noises a crowd of waiting people would make dying down almost as soon as they stepped through the warehouse doors.

Then, with a rush of exaltation, the people broke into cheers, rising to their feet, some clapping, some pumping their fists in the air, some dancing around in dizzying circles. The noise was intense, the joy of the people easy to read even from a distance.

Jack looked at Carter, one brow raised. "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," he quipped.

"No Sir," Sam agreed quietly, turning her eyes back to the crowd.

Three men stepped out to the middle of the street, walking slowly forward almost as if their pace was part of the ceremony. Their dress could only be described as bizarre – hats, tall and wide and cumbersome, long robes that dragged over the ground in what appeared to be multicoloured fabrics.

When they got close enough for Sam to make out the individual details she had to resist the urge to look at the Colonel, sure his expression would ramp up her amusement. The hats were so big they were ridiculous and the large robes made it seem as though the three men had dressed in their much larger parent's clothing. It was funny and it naturally led to the impression the men were harmless - until they could confirm there was no threat she and the Colonel had to be careful in their reactions. Offense, when you didn't know the local customs and rules, was all to easy to instigate.

"Sir?" she said quietly, wondering what he wanted her to do next.

"At ease Captain," O'Neill replied, content to reserve judgement for the time being. The three approached until they were directly in front of Sam and Jack.

"You have come," the middle man spoke reverently. "I am Aurum. Welcome to Orentis."


Chapter 4: Four Calling Birds

"Communication is the real work of leadership."

Nitin Nohria

"Colonel Jack O'Neill," Jack introduced himself briskly, "and my colleague, Captain Samantha Carter." He shared a brief glance with Carter. "We 'have come'?" he queried, deciding those were the most disturbing of all the words the strangely dressed man in front of him had spoken.

"Yes. Are you not Children of the Creators?" Aurum expanded, smiling hopefully.

"That depends," Jack returned evasively. He'd never been a fan of mistaken identity but even less a fan of the negative reactions likely once the locals worked it out for themselves. "Who are these Creators?"

"Why, those who built the structure you have just emerged from," Aurum said like it should be obvious. "It is said that only those of the same blood are able to do so and since I witnessed your arrival myself you must be one of their children."

"Wait," Carter spoke for the first time, something in the man's words sparking her interest. "You said 'it is said'. Don't you know for sure?"

"Of course not," Aurum laughed. "No one has ever emerged from the Creator's structure before. You are the first."

"Of course we are," Jack muttered sarcastically under his breath. "What else do they say?"

"Please, join us back in our village," Aurum invited. "I will be happy to tell you our legends there."

"And how it was you knew we'd be arriving today," Sam added, another good question since it couldn't be a coincidence for everyone to be there just as she and Jack emerged.

"Yes, and that as well," Aurum agreed.

Jack frowned but really, they didn't have a choice. They needed the help of these people and to get it they'd have to go along with whatever twisted version of history the residents of Orentis had created for themselves. "Right, let's go then," he said decisively, waving a hand forward for Aurum to lead the way. The other man seemed to find this amusing but he fell in with Jack's unspoken command, walking a thankfully brisk pace back towards where his people still lined the streets.

"My friends, our visitors have agreed to visit our village," he announced in a loud voice as soon as they were within shouting distance.

There was more cheering in response – of the mindless and disturbing variety as far as Jack was concerned. The sooner they found out where the hell Orentis was, the sooner they could leave the 'adoring' masses behind.

The village of Orentis was much like others SG-1 had already visited since starting their journeys through the Stargate. Dirt paths between simple hut style houses made from the local vegetation – neat and tidy but primitive on Jack's 'likely to have weapons to defeat the Goa'uld' scale.

Aurum led them to a larger hut set in the middle of what was probably the main path through the village – like a town square with a roof and walls to protect from the elements.

"Please, sit," their host invited. The other two men who's walked with him had dropped back with the rest of the villagers when they'd started their walk so it was just Aurum - Jack concluded the others had been more for show than anything else. Aurum was clearly the leader and so far seemed very open to them being there.

"You mentioned legends," Jack began as soon as he'd sat on one of the benches, Carter taking a seat beside him.

"Orentis has been here many years Colonel and like any place with a long history, we have retained many customs and legends as we have maintained our way of life," Aurum began, still standing. He reached up to remove the large hat he still wore, putting it on the bench beside him with a relieved sigh. "Some less practical than others," he added with a chuckle, scratching a hand through his hair. He untied the sash on the ceremonial robe next, revealing simple attire of handwoven shirt and pants in a natural brown. "Not to mention just a little ridiculous."

"Oh I don't know," Jack smirked. "You did look very imposing … from a distance."

Aurum laughed. "Then it was worth the sacrifice in personal dignity." He carefully draped the robe over another bench before moving to sit across from Jack and Sam. "The structure you emerged from has been there as long as Orentis – longer perhaps. Our stories tell of a powerful, benevolent race who built and used it for many years before leaving it in waiting for the arrival of their children. None of my people have ever been able to get inside – a fact that is a large part of the legend. Being able to both enter and leave the structure stands as proof of your right to claim whatever is inside."

Right to claim? Jack's brow rose. Now that sounded much more promising.

"Your stories don't mention what the structure was for?" Carter asked curiously.

"No, only that the creators used the structure to continue their exploration of our world and others," Aurum explained. "We believe they intended for their children to continue that exploration on their behalf."

"What happened to these creators?" Jack asked.

"The stories say they evolved to the point our world could no longer contain them," Aurum fell silent, his expression turning wistful. "There was a battle against a long time enemy – the creators would no longer fight. Instead they took the battle with them, putting measures in place to protect our people into the future."

Measures? O'Neill's eyes narrowed. Could that mean some kind of defensive system? "Is that how you knew we were coming, because of these measures?"

"Yes," Aurum stood, taking a few steps towards the front of the room. He pointed upwards, to what Jack would have labelled as 'local art' hanging from the wall - a large circle with symbols carved all over it. "The Admoniti. It is set in place to cast forth a bright light when the children return – as it did this morning, mere hours before your emergence from the structure."

Hours. Jack ran through their movements and calculated that the device had probably gone off the instance he and Sam had appeared, as near as he would work out. "An alarm system," he murmured to Carter, getting a nod of agreement from her in return.

"Is the building we arrived in the only structure linked back to these creators?" Sam glanced at Jack as she asked the question, both of them wondering the same thing. Was there a Stargate off in a clearing somewhere too?

"There is something else, although in truth we do not understand its purpose and our legends do not speak of it," Aurum admitted.

"Would you show us?" Carter asked hopefully.

"Of course," Aurum stood. "It is not far. Please, follow me."

Jack motioned for Sam to talk with Aurum while he brought up the rear. Every instinct he had was telling him Orentis wasn't a threat – as he continued to look for reasons to challenge that, he discovered instead an apparently simple people clearly content with the life they were leading. It was … peaceful with an innocence he hadn't seen anywhere else, not since Abydos.

Aurum led them away from the neat rows of huts, through the surrounding trees until they came upon a clearing, lit with sunlight. On the far side was something that made Jack and Sam both straighten.

"Is that what I think it is Carter?"

"If you think it's an incomplete Stargate, then yes Sir, it is," Sam replied. "May I?" she asked Aurum, getting his nod of approval before she approached for a closer look.

"Can it be that you actually know what this is?" he asked, intrigued.

"We know what it was going to be," Jack replied, shifting to stand beside the other man while Captain Carter checked out what looked like the end of his hope there was an active Stargate they could use to go home. He'd found out in the most painful way possible that a planet didn't do well with two active Stargates. He still remembered the biting cold and the feel of Carter's breath on his cheek at the end - it wasn't something he was going to forget any time soon. "Its the device the creators used to get from one planet to another - the way they did that exploring you spoke of. We call it a Stargate."

"Astounding," Aurum looked at the sight with awe.

Segments of Stargate were laid out flat on the ground, about half of them already connected. Jack could see the inner wheel complete but there was no sign of the chevron mechanisms, nor of the dial home device. "I don't suppose there's another one of these, complete and standing upright?" he asked Aurum, already knowing the answer.

"I'm afraid not," Aurum replied. "Is this important?"

"Unless you want to be stuck with us forever, yes it is," Jack replied. He'd seen enough and heard enough to trust his gut. "Look, Aurum, I don't know anything about being the children of these creators you mentioned. Us being here is an accident, nothing more. We were investigating a device we found on another planet and it brought us here. Unless we can find one of those that works," he nodded to the Stargate work in progress, "or a way to communicate with our people, we can't go home."

"You are welcome to whatever is inside the creator's structure," Aurum reminded them. "Perhaps there is something there that will assist you in returning home. Although you would honour us if you chose to stay here."

"Well, no offence, but it's expected that we'll do whatever it takes to return," Jack said kindly, genuinely appreciating the other man's open and honest welcome. "Carter, leave that for now. Let's go back and check out that building."

Once they'd returned, it didn't take Sam long to find a control console just inside the building. After getting the Colonel to activate it much as he had the doors, she spent hours searching through the schematics – the contents of the crates all around them, before finding something that looked promising.

"What you got Captain?" the Colonel asked when she turned away from her work to update him. He'd been alternating between pacing around impatiently and talking to the leader, Aurum, about the race who'd created the structure. From what Sam could tell the people knew only what amounted to a children's story of sorts - nothing specific or useful to their understanding of what they'd found.

"It's a long shot Sir, but if these diagrams are accurate and we can locate the right crates, I should be able to construct a subspace communicator."

"We can send a message to the SGC?" O'Neill's brows rose in surprise.

"To be honest Sir, I can't say for sure," Sam admitted. "It depends on how far away we are and how powerful the transmitter is. I won't know that until I've constructed a fair portion of the communicator."

"And how long would that take Captain?" the Colonel queried intently.

"A few days, maybe a week," Sam said reluctantly, knowing her estimate would be much longer than her CO would be comfortable with.

"Are there any other options?" he asked. "What about the Stargate?"

"At this stage I think it'll take far less time for me to make the transmitter than it would to complete the Stargate," Sam replied. Finishing the incomplete Stargate would be a mammoth task, one she wasn't confident they even had the skills for. She didn't know if there would be parts for a DHD nor the power source Stargates utilised either. The warehouse was enormous and she'd only scratched the surface in searching through the catalogue.

"Talking to the SGC isn't going to help much," Colonel O'Neill pointed out. "We don't exactly have a ship they can send for us."

"We don't but Teal'c might," Sam offered. "He knows a lot about Goa'uld technology and he has ties with other first primes. It's more likely we'll get somewhere through his efforts than we will trying to make a Stargate ourselves."

Make a Stargate. She shook her head. Unless there were very detailed instructions somewhere in the warehouse too along with all the right tools, there was little chance that would ever be possible. The best they could hope for was to send a long distance message that someone back home would hear.

"Fine. Make the subspace thing," Jack ordered. "Is there anything else we can use in here? Short range radios? Basic weapons?"

"I kept my search parameters very specific Sir," Carter replied. "Given the components I did identify I think at the very least I'll be able to find something we can use to keep in touch on the planet."

"Do that," Jack ordered again. He didn't want the Captain working alone without the means of communicating with him, should she need to. The planet seemed peaceful and Aurum a good sort but her safety was something he'd never take a chance on.

Nodding, Sam turned back to the control console, ready to locate the first component.


Chapter 5: Five Gold Rings

"One of the hardest things in life is having words in your heart that you can't utter."

James Earl Jones

In the days that followed Carter worked hard to construct the communicator. At first Jack had been in demand, helping her locate and then open crates with the parts she needed. Aurum allowed them to use the same hut they'd spoken in the day they'd arrived for the construction work. Carter had parts spread out on most of the benches, her work in progress on the floor in the centre. Jack knew the conditions weren't ideal but she seemed optimistic about the endeavour and that was good enough for him.

Once she'd settled into construction mode there was very little for him to do, aside from talk to Aurum or watch Carter at work. She'd found them a couple of 'radios' - small devices that looked more like parts for a DHD than a finished product but that served to allow him to check in at regular intervals. The Captain had also found weapons - basic rifle style guns that shot short but lethal bursts of blue energy. The documentation in the creator's catalogue indicated they were for subduing the local wildlife and were designed to act as a deterrent for attack. With his new radio and the rifle strapped over his shoulder Jack felt more like himself, more like they were just off on another off world mission.

He'd never had the chance to observe Carter's geek side so closely and found it strangely compelling. She had an intensity and a focus that seemed to shut out the rest of the world – he'd distract her of course but it would take a while before she'd acknowledge his presence, usually to ask for something he'd have to go away to find. He knew what she was doing – giving him something useful to do – but since she couldn't very well order him away he played along. In truth he welcomed her little 'missions' for him; by that stage he was often in the midst of wondering what it would be like to have her intensity and focus directed at him in an intimate way, and those were thoughts he couldn't allow himself to have.

It wasn't smart anywhere but especially not here when they were cut off from their command and living so closely together. The central hut had two small rooms attached to one end of it – Aurum had assigned them to Jack and Sam as the only available accommodation until they could construct a hut of their own.

"We won't be here long enough to make it worthwhile," Jack had told Aurum firmly. "The rooms you have will be fine until we get rescued." Aurum had responded by telling Jack they were welcome for as long as needed, something in his manner suggesting he thought it would be far longer than his off world visitors hoped.

"She is very capable," Aurum commented to Jack early in the third morning of construction. He usually stopped by at regular intervals to see how they were doing and had struck up a friendship of sorts with O'Neill.

"She is," Jack agreed simply.

"And yet she is not the one with the blood of the creators," Aurum continued, looking at Jack expectantly.

"Like I said, we don't know anything about your creators," Jack dismissed. The subject hadn't come up previously but he wasn't surprised their host had worked it out. He'd been with them when they'd returned to the warehouse – he would have seen Jack activating things, although only at Carter's request since he still didn't understand what he was doing, let alone how.

"You do not need to know of them to be descended from them," Aurum said wisely. "It troubles you to have this history?"

"Not particularly," Jack shrugged, "but I'm not going to take the credit for something that's just an accident. Carter's the one who's going to get us home – I'm just along for the ride."

Aurum nodded, both men falling silent to watch Sam at work. She was muttering under her breath, something Jack noticed she only did when she was trying to work out a particularly difficult problem.

"You care for her," Aurum noted the fond smile subtly playing over his companion's face.

It wasn't a question, which should have troubled Jack more than it did. He contemplated explaining the chain of command and fraternisation regulations but decided to save that for another day, saying nothing to confirm or deny Aurum's statement.

Aurum smiled, nodding as though that were what he'd expected. "It is difficult to feel so much when circumstances conspire to keep you apart."

He spoke with a sad kind of knowledge that hooked Jack's interest. "Is that experience talking?" he asked curiously.

"It is,"Aurum agreed, "although it was many years ago."

"Who was she?" Jack asked quietly.

"My wife – Argentum." The name was spoken with both pride and grief, the kind that never truly went away.

"What happened?" Jack found himself asking the question, sure that for whatever reason, Aurum wanted to tell him the story.

"There was an … incident," Aurum said vaguely. "She sacrificed so that I could continue on … and left me to remain alone for too long."

"Did she give you a choice?"

Aurum laughed suddenly. "Of course not. Argentum was both stubborn and confident, traits that made her too certain that she was right. She often said there was no point in asking the question if she wasn't going to act on the answer."

"She sounds like someone Carter would have gotten along with," Jack joked.

"Yes," Aurum sighed. "And yet Argentum failed to consider that perhaps I would not want to live with her sacrifice, that I would rather be the one to go. I believe she would have made more of this life than I have done in her absence."

"You're the leader of your village and your people are peaceful and content," Jack gave the other man a sideways glance. "Don't you think she'd be proud?"

"She would, but I suspect you understand more than most how this is not the comfort it sounds like," Aurum replied.

For a second Jack felt the darkness inside him rise up like the tide, threatening to engulf the barriers he'd built at the shore. Charlie. Jack would gladly take that bullet to save his son but that wasn't a choice he'd been given. There were not enough good deeds, sacrifices, or acts of bravery he could deliver that would ever make up for Charlie's death. "I understand," he said in a low tone, forcing the dark thoughts back in the box he kept them in.

"I still love her, my wife, although if I were to see her again I would be angry that she took herself away from me," Aurum admitted.

"You'd forgive her," Jack smiled when Aurum chuckled.

"In a heartbeat," he agreed, "and I don't say that just because I believe she still watches over me to this day."

Jack nodded. He'd like to think that Charlie watched over him too, hopefully not closely enough to see some of the things he'd done in the name of duty. Sometimes his son felt close enough that Jack could believe it; the rest he couldn't find that special spark inside that was his son, the distance so great that his love was not enough to breach it. Uncomfortable with the introspection, Jack's eyes returned to where Carter was working. She'd been tireless in her campaign to build the subspace communicator, her resolve and determination just a small part of what he admired in her.

"We do not choose how events unfold, nor who we will love along the way."

Jack looked up to see Aurum watching him closely. "There's always a choice," he said, although internally he was beginning to wonder if that was true. Never in a million years would he choose to have the kinds of thoughts and feelings for someone under his command that he had for Carter and yet they were there, and he was already tired of denying them. He couldn't reveal them to Sam, was still bound by the rules and the military code, but perhaps it was time to be honest with himself.

He didn't want to be but Jack O'Neill was in love with Samantha Carter, and if the dread settling in the pit of his stomach was anything to go by it was the forever, never getting over it, kind.

"We should be ready to test this tomorrow Sir," Sam called out, noticing his intent regard.

"That's great," he said, pushing aside the worry that it wouldn't work. It had to work … because he needed to get away from the companionable life he was living with Carter before he said or worse did something he couldn't take back.


Chapter 6: Six geese a-laying

"Heroes take journeys, confront dragons, and discover the treasure of their true selves."

Carol Lynn Pearson

"So, which quadrant are we searching tonight?" Colonel O'Neill looked at Sam expectantly. It had become the routine of the past three days since they'd settled in while Sam build the subspace communicator. They'd share the evening meal with Aurum and then return to their rooms before heading out for an extended session of local astronomy. In order to be able to communicate with Earth, aside from having the subspace communications device, Sam also needed a reference for their current location so she'd know which direction to send their message in. So far they hadn't found anything familiar, despite having the use of a powerful telescope they'd found in the warehouse a few days prior.

"Quadrant D Sir," she said, passing through the rear of the large hut and back out into the night. It was dark but with two full moons to guide their steps they walked easily to the nearby clearing where she'd set up the telescope. "You go first Sir," she made room for the Colonel to take his position in front of the telescope. He hadn't said as much but it was clear that Colonel O'Neill had experience with both telescopes and astronomical phenomena. He was both competent and informed and they'd each discovered in the other a fellow 'star' buff. That surprised Sam, that she could have something scientific in common with the Colonel.

"Quadrant D you say," O'Neill quipped, shifting to sit in front of the telescope and adjusting it to point in the right direction. He was focussed and applied an intensity to the task that captivated Sam. Being surrounded by the darkness and the total lack of any other living souls just increased the intimacy of their setting. More and more she found herself distracted by the Colonel, coming back to herself to realised she'd been staring at him for who knew how long. He never called her up on it and she could only conclude that he hadn't noticed.

After fifteen minutes the Colonel handed the telescope over to Sam to continue searching from where he'd left off. He settled on the ground beside her, hands resting casually on his raised knees. She loved his hands – they were so graceful and competent – and they made her feel that he'd be good at anything he turned his hand at. Oh God, that sounded so full of innuendo and even in her thoughts she couldn't risk that.

"Carter?" the Colonel raised a brow and she flushed, spinning to glue herself to the telescope so she wouldn't have to look at him. He'd well and truly caught her staring this time! She could almost feel his gaze boring into her back but she resolutely ignored it, determined not to break out into babbling apologies. He'd ignore her reaction, or write it off as her being distracted by their task.

After her own fifteen minute stint at the telescope she pushed away, frustrated. "This isn't working," she shook her head, feeling abruptly close to tears. That wasn't like her but after days of feeling all the pressure of their rescue on her shoulders, on top of being confronted with the hopelessness of her feelings for Colonel O'Neill, she was too close to needing an emotional release. "We might as well be searching the skies with the naked eye for all the chance we'll actually stumble across something recognisable."

O'Neill regarded her silently for a moment, the moons casting enough light that she could see his eyes narrow as he considered her. "How much sleep have you been getting Captain?" his tone was one she had to answer honestly to.

"A few hours a night Sir," she admitted.

"We're not on a schedule here Carter," he said seriously. "Yes, we need to make contact with the SGC, and yes, I want to go home as much as you do, but not if it means you run yourself into the ground to get there. Ease up at little, okay?"

"Okay, Sir," she said in a flat voice, looking away.

"Sam," he never called her by her first name, never spoke to her with that tone. It wasn't a command, and it wasn't Colonel to Captain. It was personal; one friend to another, and it had her locking her eyes to his before she'd thought about the wisdom of letting him see what was lurking in hers.

"We'll get home," he promised her. Something in his voice, in the way he looked at her, made tears rise in her eyes. When he reached out and brushed his fingers across her cheek her eyes closed involuntarily and those tears fell. It was he who wiped them away, he who smoothed her hair back behind her ears, and it felt so right that she let out a shuddering breath.

Her eyes snapped open when the feel of his hand on her face vanished. He'd taken a step back and was watching her, his expression unreadable. She watched him in return, too busy wondering what he was thinking for once to worry about what she was revealing.

"I ah – who's turn is it?" he broke the moment, his movements not as smooth as usual as he turned his back to her and settled in front of the telescope, giving the impression that all of his attention was on the slice of space above them.

Sam watched him for a few moments, sighing when she realised there would be nothing more. He'd offer no explanation and she couldn't ask for one. She'd have to add the strange moment they'd shared to the section of her mind she'd labelled Colonel Jack O'Neill. There were other moments there already, along with all the thoughts and feelings she had for him, all the things she wasn't allowed to think and feel. He fascinated her the more time she spent with him and she was beginning to fear that no man would ever captivate her as much as he did.

"What about this?" his voice drew her attention and she moved to look through the telescope at the constellation he'd found.

As she continued to look she realised that finally they had something – a recognisable collection of stars that would help her work out where Earth was. She was relieved but if she were honest also disappointed. Assuming the device worked and assuming the SGC could respond quickly, her interlude with Colonel O'Neill could soon draw to a close. She couldn't help but think it was her chance to understand him, that if they left too soon she'd miss out on vital information she needed to really know him, and herself as well.

"Yes, I know it," she sat back and smiled at him. "Well done Sir."

"Hey, it was a team effort," he smiled back. "So does this mean you can test your subspace doohickie tomorrow?"

"Yes Sir," she replied, trying not to be hurt that he didn't share her disappointment. Clearly the Colonel couldn't wait to leave. "The planet", she reminded herself silently, "not you."

As they walked back to the hut and disappeared into their adjacent rooms Sam worried that something had shifted between them, changed them for better or worse.

Hard as it was to believe, Sam realised early the next morning as she prepared to test the subspace communicator she'd built from alien parts in a matter of days, that she was actually nervous.

Maybe everything didn't hinge on the result but it still felt like one of the most important moments of her career so far. Right up there with completing the dialling program for the Stargate and deciding to stay with Cassandra after the Colonel ordered her to abandon the young girl. Their lives weren't at risk, at least not in any physical sense, but she couldn't help but think that the life they both knew was under threat. If they couldn't communicate with the SGC then they couldn't request assistance and they'd truly be on their own. She'd have to confront a whole host of thoughts and feelings she felt ill prepared to address, something that needed to be avoided at all costs.

"How's it coming Carter?" Jack queried. He wasn't impatient, just bored in that way of his. In the early days of SG-1 Sam had sometimes wondered how he'd been able to undertake the black ops missions she knew in general terms he'd been involved in. Surely some would have included staking out high level targets, and yet he seemed to struggle to sit still for more than a few minutes. As she's gotten to know him better she'd come to appreciate that Colonel O'Neill was very much a man of action. If the action required of him was to remain silent and still then he'd do it, indefinitely. It just wasn't required on him now.

"Almost there Sir," she answered, rechecking the primary connections to the power unit she was using before getting to her feet. "I'm as ready as I'm going to be Colonel," she announced.

"Then fire it up Captain," he replied, waving a hand encouragingly. He was standing off to the side of the large room, behind the benches she'd been using as work tables. Giving him a confident smile that felt uncomfortable on her face she turned back to her controls.

"Here goes nothing," she murmured, switching the device to transmit. Everything worked as it should – she had a subspace connection of sorts, a channel to use. "So far so good Sir," she reported, moving to the second stage which was to target communications towards Earth. This was where it was going to get tricky since she couldn't exactly pinpoint their current location relative to Earth, even with the recognisable constellation they'd found the previous evening. It was a guess at best, but hopefully the most educated one they were capable of. Sending the message was an anticlimax – nothing happened but then, that wasn't a surprise. She hoped the technology at the SGC would enable them to pick up her signal much as they would a radio signal, but they had to be listening. Then they had to send something back that her device could receive. "This could take a while Sir," she admitted, giving him an apologetic glance.

"I'm not going anywhere," he reminded her that they both had nothing to do, other than find a way home.

Nodding, Sam returned her attention to the communication device. Over the following hours she made many adjustments, but when the sun was low in the sky had to concede defeat. "I'm sorry Sir," she told the Colonel. He'd hovered throughout the day, urging her to take breaks she grudgingly did, making them as short as possible before she returned to her machine.

"What are you sorry about Captain?" he asked, moving to sit down next to her.

"I don't think it's going to work," she admitted. It had been a long shot but deep inside she'd counted on being able to send a message. Defeat rose sharply and her shoulders slumped. "There are just too many variables and I don't have the means of working out which is at fault. We could be pointing in the wrong direction, the SGC might not be listening right now, their equipment might not be capable of picking up our message, or the signal just might not be strong enough to reach Earth from here. I'm sorry Sir," she said again, looking down at the ground.

"But we can keep that thing running right?" he asked.

She looked up, expecting to see disappointment or frustration on his face but finding instead the steady support she could too easily rely on. "As long as the power cell lasts, yes Sir," she confirmed.

"Okay, so we let it do its thing and go explore in the warehouse," he suggested.

"Aurum allowed us to look for the parts I needed Sir," Sam frowned. "I'm not sure he'd want us to explore just for the sake of it."

"Nonsense. I'm a 'child of the creator'," he air quoted with a smirk. "He'd have given me the keys to the place if I didn't already have them." He waved his hand like he's done to open the doors, reminding her that he at least had a claim to the contents of warehouse.

"I don't know Sir." Sam felt reluctance and wasn't sure if it was because she didn't want to raise her hopes again or for fear they'd find nothing and have to concede that they were stuck on Orentis forever.

"Come on Carter – live a little. You could consider this your replacement Christmas present," he suggested, "given we missed Christmas day back home." They'd missed it and hadn't done anything to even acknowledge it since they'd spent a fair portion of that first day trying to find a way out of the warehouse and then the rest talking with Aurum. Explaining something like Christmas wasn't something either she or the Colonel considered important.

"I could Sir," Sam agreed, "except I didn't exactly have any presents waiting for me."

"Doesn't matter. Some of those boxes are huge Carter," he told her, nudging her shoulder with his, "and you know what they say."

"What's that Sir?" Sam asked.

"Good things come in small packages," he said with a twinkle in his eyes, "but even better things come in big packages."

Sam laughed. "Then I guess we should go and see what's in ours then," she stood, brushing off her pants before, after a moment's hesitation, she offered him a hand getting up.

The Colonel took it, getting to his feet and squeezing her hand in another expression of support before he let go.

She really didn't think they'd find anything useful, not without days of searching through an alien catalogue that only made sense if there were detailed diagrams included. That's why she let out a gasp of surprise after only a few minutes at the console.

"What?" the Colonel was at her side instantly, looking at the screen with a puzzled frown. "What is it?"

"I think it's the bible for Stargate building Sir," she said, glancing up at him with a smile.

"We can finish the gate?" he asked, his brow raised.

"With this, I think so Sir," she replied, hope surging through her again.



Chapter 7: Seven swans a swimming

"There comes a point in many people's lives when they can no longer play the role they have chosen for themselves. When that happens, we are like actors finding that someone has changed the play."

Brian Moore

Building a Stargate, even one that looked to be half completed, was no small endeavour. Once the euphoria of Carter's discovering the Idiot's guide to Stargate Construction had worn off Jack realised he'd have to settle in for weeks rather than days. He helped, as much as he could, but was little more than muscle, helping Sam move parts from the warehouse and then around in the Stargate clearing whenever she asked. She was concentrating on the gate itself first – they'd address the lack of a DHD when they got to the point of needing it.

The days merged into each other as Carter worked. When he ran out of ways to stand around and look busy he'd walk, covering ground a few miles out from the gate until he knew what was out there in every direction. He kept to protocol, carrying his alien weapons and maintaining regular radio check-ins with Carter. He was more thankful than ever that Sam had found both - without them Jack would have felt compelled to spend every moment Sam was working in the stargate clearly guarding her. Aurum accompanied him most days for a short walk, at first talking about Orentis and its history before he began to ask about Earth.

"Are your people as peaceful as we of Orentis are?"

Jack laughed abruptly. "Not even close," he admitted. The sun was high in the sky, casting leafy shadows on the ground. It was amusing in a way, how closely the terrain mirrored the woods of Minnesota. He felt at home here and had to remind himself not to get used to the easier life he was leading. He couldn't afford to lose his edge because there was no doubt in his mind that Carter would succeed in completing the Stargate – when she did they'd be going back home, back to the life he knew and understood. The one where Carter was his teammate and he didn't spent hours every day with her. "We strive for peace but haven't achieved it collectively," Jack added.

"Ah," Aurum nodded. "You have enemies you must defend against."

"Something like that," Jack didn't want to get into explaining Earth politics. That wasn't relevant to Aurum anyway. What was relevant was how the SGC teams conducted themselves off world and that was something O'Neill was quite comfortable talking about. "Does your history mention the Gou'ald?"

"Gou'ald?" Aurum repeated the unfamiliar word.

"They're a race of parasitic beings," Jack explained. "Snake like things that burrow into the back of your neck and take over control of your body."

"The enslavers," Aurum nodded. "Yes, we have heard of them. They came here, generations ago, around the time the creators left. They have not returned since."

That was interesting. These creators must have had some kind of defence against the Goa'uld, something he'd have to ask Aurum about, although the other man was often vague on details. Jack was still trying to work out the timing of what happened when in Orentis history, but the inconsistencies were getting in the way. Like the warehouse being there, fully stocked, and yet the gate hadn't been completed, even though it sounded like the creators lived on Orentis for a long time. If Carter was right about the device that had started their little adventure being part of the process for building new Stargates, why hadn't they followed the same procedure here? And if she was wrong, what was so special about Orentis that the creators needed a device to bring people to it?

"Were the creators responsible for the Gou'ald leaving?"

"So it is written and in the doing the decision to move on was also made," Aurum replied. Everything Aurum said sounded open and honest but Jack was beginning to think their host had secrets, that his words were too carefully chosen. He didn't think Aurum was lying to them, just not telling them everything he could.

"I don't suppose you're going to tell me how the creators made the Gou'ald leave," he muttered.

"Why is this knowledge important?" Aurum asked.

"Because the Gou'ald are still out here, still enslaving people, many of them the ancestors of people they took from my planet," Jack returned. "They take hosts against their will," the image of Skaara and Sha're rose in his mind, "and use others to do their bidding. They kill without conscience. There's never been anyone to stand up against them."

"Until you?"

"We came into this by accident but we'll do what we can - and we'll defeat the Goa'uld eventually," Jack promised grimly.

"Will you tell me about this accident?" Aurum asked.

"Sure," Jack nodded. He told the story succinctly, covering the first mission through the Stargate and following quickly with his second trip almost a year later, including their losses and their rescue of all the rejected hosts – with Teal'c help.

"You are a people of justice," Aurum noted, seeming pleased by that fact.

"We are," Jack felt compelled to be honest, "although I can't speak for everyone. Our military organisations are there to protect and defend but sometimes the leaders get it wrong. Politics –now that's a topic you don't want to get into."

Aurum smiled. "It is enough to know that in meeting the first of the children of the creators, I am lucky enough to find him to be honourable and just."

"O-kay," Jack grimaced, deciding he wasn't comfortable being the representative of a race he was never likely to meet.

"And modest," Aurum added with a chuckle.

"I get that a lot," Jack quipped.

Aurum laughed. "And how goes Captain Carter's campaign to complete the Stargate?"

"Slowly," Jack grimaced. "I'm getting too used to the easy life."

"And too used to being so much in Samantha Carter's company," Aurum suggested.

"That too," Jack shook his head. He'd told the other man about military rules a few days previously when Aurum asked outright why Jack and Sam were not a couple. It had been difficult to explain restrictions to someone who didn't understand the need for them.

"Not all rules are there to be followed," Aurum said quietly.

"I'm a Colonel in the United States Air Force," Jack returned. "While you might not understand what that means, as the leader of your people you do understand the importance of setting the right example. If I don't follow the rules, how can I expect anyone else to?"

"Does Captain Carter feel as you do about these rules?"

"I haven't asked, and it's presuming a lot to think she has any reason to even think about them," Jack said irritably. He didn't want to talk about Sam but Aurum had a way of getting him to admit to things he'd never usually admit to.

"Your feelings are reciprocated," Aurum insisted.

"Look, I appreciate what you're trying to do here, but now isn't the time," Jack said impatiently.

"On the contrary, there is no other time but now."

Jack sighed. He hated it when Aurum got all philosophical. "And right now I'm going to go back and see if Carter needs help."

Aurum smiled. "Then we will continue our discussion another day."

"I can't wait," Jack muttered under his breath.

A few days later Jack was at the gate site, doing his usual imitation of someone who wasn't bored out of his mind.

"Sir, perhaps a walk," Sam suggested.

"Are you trying to get rid of me Carter?" his brow rose as he regarded her expectantly.

"Not permanently Sir," she said with a small smile.

"That's good," Jack nodded wisely, "because you know I'd haunt you, right?"

"You already do Sir," Sam replied, tongue in cheek.

"Ouch," Jack pretended to clutch his chest, hurt.

He'd turned away from her which was why he saw it, the flash of movement in the trees. Raising the P-90 he still always carried around, he focussed, rewarded when he saw the movement again.

"What is it Sir?" Sam, immediately tuned into his no longer relaxed mood, looked where he was looking.

"Maybe nothing," Jack replied.

With an inhuman lunge, a large animal burst from the woods, leaping directly at Carter. Jack reacted instinctively, aiming and firing in one smooth movement. A blue burst of pure energy shot out and struck true. The creature dropped to the forest floor, whining sharply.

"Sir!" Sam called out a warning as he approached.

"It's okay Captain," Jack said, dropping to the ground beside the animal. It was a large cat like animal, sleek and beautiful even wounded and panting as it was. Jack ran a hand over its coat, calming it, taking in a host of details to arrive at a conclusion. "It's a new mother – we probably disturbed it's den. It was just defending itself."

"I'll go and get Aurum," Sam offered. "They may have someone with some skill in treating the local animals."

"I am here," Aurum seemed to appear out of nowhere, his eyes assessing the scene quickly. "A beatitas," he said, moving to the animals side. "The wound is not serious," he looked at Jack curiously. "Was your aim true?"

"The Colonel never misses," Sam said before Jack could answer.

"Why did you not kill the creature? Did she not attack Captain Carter?"

"It did but there's no point in killing when it wasn't necessary," Jack said, shrugging. "She was just doing what was natural. Besides, I've seen enough already to know not to risk offending the locals. For all we know this animal could be sacred. Killing it could have landed us in a whole heap of trouble."

"Very wise." Aurum turned his attention to the sky. "Argentum. Is it enough?" he called out.

"It is, my husband."

It was a woman's voice and it came from above them. As Jack and Sam watched, a point of brightness emerged, growing steadily brighter as it approached. When it got closer Jack could see what looked like tentacles of light swirling around the core of brightness. The phenomenon was like nothing Jack had ever seen before. When he glanced at Aurum however, the other man's open, welcoming expression made it clear he at least wasn't surprised.

A woman's face appeared to surface within the core, her smile tender as she gazed at Aurum. "You have done well my love. It is time."

"Thank our ancestors!" Aurum exclaimed, his whole body straightening, poised for whatever was going to happen next. He raised his arms, stretching out his hands and turning them upwards. Closing his eyes he breathed in and out, slowly and deeply, the feeling of peace he was creating palpable. This time the core of bright light began within him, quickly growly to engulf his body. There was a flash and a breeze that washed over Jack and Sam. When it stopped, where one being of light had floated now there were two.

"I didn't see that one coming," Jack muttered.

"They must be composed of pure energy Sir," Sam murmured incredulously, her scientific mind looking for a logical explanation.

With all the conversations Jack had had with Aurum, all the talk of the creators and their legacy, he didn't need logic. It was clear to him what Aurum was – the last of those creators, left to guard that legacy and the people chosen to live beside it. With Jack's arrival – with the proof that he at least was descended from the creators, that he had the ability to make use of what they'd left behind, the end of Aurum's job had drawn close. Jack guessed the rest of it had been Aurum assuring himself and those of his kind watching over Orentis that Jack was worthy of the inheritance he'd stumbled upon. That he wasn't going to use what they'd left to wreck havoc across the galaxy.

"So, does this mean you can help us with the gate?" Jack asked. "Give us a free ride home?"

Aurum's face emerged from the light, smiling. "Nice try Colonel, but no. We are forbidden from directly influencing the events of this realm. We have led you to our legacy. The rest is up to you."

"Of course it is," Jack muttered, not surprised.

"You will do well," Aurum promised. "Valdis is the true leader of Orentis. As far as he is aware it has always been he you have dealt with during your time here. He is a good man – he will treat you fairly."

Valdis? Jack frowned, recalling one of the two men who'd accompanied Aurum up the street during the first greeting. He'd spoken to him a few times only and didn't even want to think about how Aurum could change the other man's perception of their history. If he could do that he probably could click his fingers and send them home - Jack was more than a little peeved they still had to do it the hard way.

"Life, even that which my kind lives, is short Jack," Aurum's voice came from all around them. "Do not wait for what you know is meant to be. Do not wait for now when that time is already upon you."

The light that was Aurum and Argentum brightened and brightened until Jack and Sam had to look away. When they risked opening their eyes again the daylight was as it should be – Aurum and Argentum were gone.

"What did he mean Sir?" Sam asked quietly, her mood reflective as she realised she'd witnessed something special and unique.

The Colonel turned to look at her, his dark eyes full of something mysterious and powerful. He was silent for so long she thought he wasn't going to answer.

"I'll tell you when you get us home," he promised, his voice gentle in a way she'd never heard before.

"Okay," she frowned, wanting to know more than ever before what he was thinking. He touched a hand to her shoulder and then walked away, leaving her to stare after him. "So, no pressure then," she muttered, frustrated. With a sigh she turned back towards the centre of the clearing. She had a Stargate to finish.


Chapter 8: Eight maids a-milking

"Where does the family start? It starts with a man falling in love with a woman - no superior alternative has yet been found." - Winston Churchill

Life continued as usual after Aurum's abrupt departure. He'd been accurate in assuring them the real leader of the village would treat them as though he'd always been liaising with them. The Colonel spent enough time with Valdis that he didn't have to pretend particular knowledge or a friendship after the first few days, neither he nor Sam mentioning to anyone what happened or the history Aurum had revealed. Valdis was just as supportive of Sam's efforts to complete the Stargate and saw that they were looked after so that she could devote all her efforts to the task.

Sam worked on the Stargate from first light until the sun fell, taking breaks usually when Colonel O'Neill escalated his distraction tactics to the point she couldn't concentrate. She pretended annoyance but in truth appreciated his efforts – he was her commanding officer and therefore expected to look after all the people under his command, but still, the way he kept an eye on her made her feel cared for.

One day merged into another and she became accustomed to the ideal conditions, working outside every day where only in the middle of the day did the sun cast direct sunlight on the Stargate site. The rest of the time she worked in dappled shadows surrounded by cool green light that felt wonderfully like her garden at home. Not that she'd had much time for gardening since joining the SGC. Being spoiled for working conditions made it a shock for Sam to wake one morning to the sound of rain pounding down on the roof above her head.

She lay there for a time, just listening, her thoughts drifting freely. Had Daniel found anything on that holiday dig? Was Teal'c back from SG-0's humanitarian mission? Would she ever get to reveal the amazing story of the creators and tell her team mates about Aurum and their own CO's link to that long gone race?

Were the Colonel and herself missed?

"Don't be stupid - of course you are," she told herself, sitting up in bed and fluffing fingers through her short hair in an effort to wake herself up. Dressing quickly she hurried to the veranda that circled the large central hut she and the Colonel were still staying in. The rain was very heavy and from what she could see of the sky, unlikely to let up any time soon. While the bits and pieces of the gate she left out overnight would be okay, there was no way she could put anything together in the current conditions.

Maybe there was something she could do at the warehouse. She hadn't even thought about a DHD yet – with the discovery of the 'Stargate bible' Sam felt confident Aurum's people would have had some kind of plan for dialling the gate, even if the intention had been to bring a completed DHD in from somewhere else.


Sam turned to see Colonel O'Neill lounging against the doorway.

"Goin' somewhere?" he asked, rocking back on his heels, his hands in his pockets. He glanced at the curtain of rain behind her and then back to her, his expression making it clear he thought the answer should be no.

"We still don't have a solution for the DHD Sir," she explained. "I was going to continue exploration of the warehouse, hopefully to locate whatever the creators intended us to use."

"Not today," he said simply.


"Give it a rest Captain," he returned. "You've been at this for weeks without a day off. It's raining cats and dogs out there. Take a holiday why don't you!"

Sam grimaced. "A holiday Sir?" she queried, her reluctance obvious. What would she do with herself for an entire day?

"Yes, a holiday," he said with slow exaggeration. "Where one sits down with one's feet up and contemplates one's existence. Goes fishing. Watches hockey. You know, fun stuff. You do know how to have fun, don't you Carter?"

"I have fun all the time Sir," she returned defensively. "Building a Stargate is fun for me."

"Right," the Colonel didn't seem convinced. "Well, you missed out on the Christmas and New Year holidays back home so I insist," his tone was light but she knew he meant business and that she should consider his words an order.

"Yes Sir," she accepted, turning and looking out at the rain wistfully. Maybe it wouldn't last long.

"Looks like it's settling in," the Colonel said, moving to stand beside her.

She nodded, frowning. They didn't have a timetable but every day wasted was a day when she felt closer to this life and further from the one she knew she had to return to.

"So tell me Captain, what would you have done for the holidays, if we weren't here having 'fun'," he air quoted her, his eyes twinkling.

She moved to sit on one of the benches lining the veranda, waiting until he sat beside her before answering. "Well, you already know I was going to spend Christmas Day with Doctor Fraiser and Cassandra. It's Cassie's first Christmas so it would have been special to introduce her to that particular Earth custom." She sighed, letting herself feel for the first time a measure of sadness for what she'd missed out on back home. This was why she liked to keep busy – less time for thinking about things she couldn't change!

"I'm sorry you missed it," the Colonel said quietly.

She glanced at him, her eyes locking with his as she tried to read what was in those chocolate depths. When she realised she was staring she looked away abruptly. "It's okay Sir," she dismissed. "Janet would have explained as best she could – and there's always next year."

Falling silent, an air of companionship that grew between them, each looking out at the rain, lost in their thoughts. "What about you Sir?" Sam finally roused herself to ask.

"Me?" O'Neill queried.

"What were you going to do for the holidays?"

"A whole lot of nothing," he drawled. He used a casual easy-going tone but Sam saw the barrier slam down in his eyes, guarding his emotions.

"It must be hard," she said gently, compassionately. "I'm sorry Sir."

"For what?" O'Neill turned to look at her.

"My mother was killed in a car accident when I was in high school," Sam answered indirectly. "That first Christmas after was difficult. It took me a while to understand that special occasions would never the same – too full of memories of when she was alive and too many reminders that she wasn't. I can't imagine how much worse it would be to lose a child."

The Colonel was silent for so long she began to fear she'd made a colossal mistake bringing up Charlie, but another thing she remembered from losing her mother was that people tiptoed around her. They did it at the funeral and for months afterwards whenever they saw her, and they did it at every special occasion gathering. It was so awkward it left Sam feeling like she couldn't even talk about her mother. Some days she'd have given anything for a sympathetic ear, someone who would just let her talk, listen, and pass no judgement. Maybe the Colonel didn't feel the same but if he did, Sam dearly wanted to be that ear for him.

"Charlie loved Christmas," Colonel O'Neill finally said.

Sam glanced at him and found herself giving him an answering smile when she saw the fond smile on his face.

"Most kids do," she commented encouraging him to continue.

"He really loved Christmas," O'Neill repeated. "Drove us crazy when he was just learning to count asking us every chance he got how many days 'till the big day. When he got older I had to hide his presents in the boot of my truck because there was nowhere in the house where he wouldn't find them."

"He sounds very determined," Sam smiled, deciding the boy sounded a lot like his father.

"Stubborn is the word you're looking for Carter," the Colonel corrected, amused. "Charlie worked out pretty young that Sara and I were Santa Claus – he'd still write his letter every year and address it to us. Dear Mom and Dad … this Christmas I'd like a bike or a baseball glove or whatever toy was big that year. I think Sara was a little disappointed he didn't retain that wonder kids have for the myth longer that he did." O'Neill glanced at Carter. "She didn't realise knowing and finding ways to use it was the wonder for him."

"What was your last Christmas with him like?" Sam asked gently.

"Special," the Colonel replied softly. "They were all special – every day with him was. He could find something to laugh about in anything … had so much energy I could barely keep up with him."

Sam nodded, shifting until her shoulder just touched his, her silent show of support.

"I miss him."

Sam swallowed back sudden tears for a boy she'd never know and the man she wanted desperately to comfort. "I miss my Mom," she replied, her voice thick.

"Tell me about Christmases with her," the Colonel requested quietly.

"They were special," Sam unwittingly echoed his own words. "When she was doing something with you she had a way of making you feel like you were the only person in the world. Every Christmas we'd bake cookies and decorate them to hand out for gifts." Sam chuckled suddenly. "She'd spend hours helping me come up with the perfect gift idea for my Dad and yet somehow we'd always end up giving him socks."

"You can never have too many socks," O'Neill said wisely.

"No," Sam agreed with a fond smile. "It became a tradition."

"Do you still get him socks now?"

"No," Sam said sadly. "After Mom was gone my Dad gave up on Christmas. I regret going along with that. I should have insisted on carrying on with all the things she loved about the season."

"You were young then," the Colonel excused. "You could bring back those traditions now."

In hindsight she knew he was right but at the time she'd felt so old beyond her years, so ready for the next stage of her life if it meant she could leave the sadness of that time behind.

"I regret not letting Charlie find his gifts before Christmas," Colonel O'Neill shared. "It became a game I was so determined to win I didn't see how big a kick he'd get out of it. He'd have loved knowing something he thought we didn't know."

"I bet looking was a challenge for him Sir," Sam replied. "He sounds smart enough to have known if you'd made it easy for him."

The Colonel chuckled. "You're right Carter. He'd have called me up on it too."

"No regrets," she murmured.

"No regrets," he echoed.

And then he did something he'd never done before. He put his arm around her shoulders, his chest something solid for her to lean on. She didn't protest or pull away, instead letting let herself relax into his embrace. She knew too well, as he did, that there would always be one regret. Charlie O'Neill and Deborah Carter had been cheated of the full lives they each should have lived, leaving their families behind to regret what might have been.

Chapter 9: Nine Ladies Dancing

"Start living now. Stop saving the good china for that special occasion. Stop withholding your love until that special person materializes. Every day you are alive is a special occasion. Every minute, every breath, is a gift from God." - Mary Manin Morrissey

"You will attend the Novus," Valdis stated, rather than asked, or more to the point invited. They'd just finished the evening meal in Valdis' home and Jack had decided to linger to allow Carter the chance to spend some time alone that didn't involve sleeping. The rooms they were using were small – even though there wasn't a lot to do after dark, having the use of the central room without Jack lurking around would do Sam good.

He raised a brow at his host's statement. "And what, pray tell, is a Novus?"

"A celebration of the new cycle," Valdis explained, his enthusiasm apparent. "When the moon and stars return to their beginnings and the seasons start anew."

"Ah, New Years Eve," Jack nodded. "We have something similar back home." He didn't add that coincidentally their own New Year's celebration would have taken place only a couple of weeks ago – he'd never been fond of mass gatherings on or off world and didn't want to give Valdis ammunition to insist they attend his.

"Then you understand the importance of closing off one cycle so that the next can begin afresh," Valdis intoned. "Without that closure how can one expect to achieve all that is wished for in the coming seasons?"

"I've never been fond of new year's resolutions," Jack quipped.

"Resolutions?" Valdis queried.

"Where you make promises to yourself that you don't intend to keep," Jack explained. "I'll lose weight or quit smoking or write a book, and the like."

"You do not need to lose weight Colonel, and what is this smoking you speak of?"

"They're just examples," Jack smirked.

"Ah, I see," Valdis smiled. "We do not make these promises to ourselves. Instead we dance with joy and for those found worthy, make our wishes at the Novus stone."

"Sounds interesting," Jack said for form. Dancing of any kind was the opposite of interesting as far as he was concerned and he'd learned a long time ago not to make wishes. "What do people usually wish for?"

"What you would expect," Valdis chuckled. "Young couples wish for lasting love. The old wish for many more seasons with their families."

"Well I'm sure you'll all have a wonderful time," Jack dismissed.

"It is important for my people to see you and Captain Carter celebrating," Valdis said more seriously. "This cycle has been unique in their eyes – one with the blood of the creators has come, something most thought they would not witness in their lifetime. Your arrival, the building of the Stargate, these events change the lives of my people forever."

"I understand that," Jack grimaced, knowing he'd have to cave. Valdis and his people had been nothing but generous, opening their village and their hearts to he and Sam. The least he could do was spend a few hours at their celebration. "We just have to show up, right? Nothing else?"

"Well," Valdis hesitated, giving Jack an apologetic smile. "Those who attend must dance at the close of celebrations. It is a small thing and we will teach you the steps required."

"Dancing," Jack grimaced again. With a put upon sigh he nodded. "Fine, one dance."

"Thank you Colonel," Valdis clapped his hands together, jumping to his feet. "The Novus is in five days. I must speak with Kara and Alden – they will instruct you and Captain Carter."

"Five days," Jack repeated. "I'll ah, I'll go tell Carter the good news."

Valdis nodded, escorting Jack out on his way to one of the neighbouring huts. Jack walked back to the central hut slowly, hoping that Carter would have already retired for the night. His luck was running true to recent form though – Sam was still awake, the plans for the Stargate laid out on a table for her to study.

"A dance Sir?" Sam reacted much as Jack had after he'd explained. "With each other?"

"I don't know Carter!" he shot back, irritable because there was even one dance he'd have to undertake and because he hadn't thought to ask if it was a couples dance. "Valdis is assigning us each an instructor. You can ask them at our first lesson tomorrow."

"Yes Sir," Sam looked as reluctant as he felt which mollified him somewhat.

"It'll be fine Captain," he said more positively. "We turn up, follow the steps without embarrassing ourselves, and everyone is happy."

He didn't think it would be quite that easy but Carter let herself be reassured. When Kara and Alden turned up the next morning, taking each of them to a separate location outside, Jack knew it. The dance was a two person thing – he'd have to lead Carter through a series of intricate steps, some of which would bring them into very close contact. He waited until the last day of instruction, the morning before the Novus would take place, to talk to Sam about it. He would have waited for the big event itself except Kara had mentioned the previous day that he'd be practicing with Sam next session.

"Are you okay with all of this?" he asked vaguely as they finished up breakfast.

"With what Sir?" Sam asked.

"The Novus, this whole dance thing," Jack expanded.

"Yes Sir."

"You're okay with dancing," Jack continued, "with me?"

"That depends Sir," Sam's eyes twinkled as she regarded him. "Are you going to be stepping on any of my toes?"

"Of course not!" Jack said, mock offended. "I'll have you know Kara said I was the best student she'd ever taught." He paused. "The best off world student anyway."

Carter laughed. "Then I'm perfectly okay with one dance Sir," she said.

"That's ah … that's good," Jack replied, wondering why he felt awkward all of a sudden. Probably because in a few minutes when Kara and Alden arrived he'd have to dance with Sam … he'd have to put his hands on her when he'd been carefully avoiding invading her personal space since the rainy day. He didn't regret talking about Charlie with her – in fact it had been a relief to allow himself to remember a happy time with his son. The trouble was, knowledge bred familiarity and intimacy, dangerous ingredients when he already felt too much for his subordinate.

"Relax Sir," Sam stood, offering his her hand. "I promise not to step on your toes either," she said, pulling him up when he took her hand.

The knock on the door stopped him from replying.

"Sam, Jack, Good morning," Kara smiled. The Orentian's were on the short side, most of delicate build and dark colouring. Kara and Alden were typical of their race, Alden looking tiny beside Carter's superior height. "Are you ready for your final instruction?"

"No," Jack quipped, earning a pointed glance from Carter.

"You should have more confidence in your abilities Jack," Kara took his answer seriously. "He is quite accomplished," she told Carter.

"As is Samantha," Alden added.

Samantha. Hearing Carter's full name was a jolt – Jack looked away before Carter could read the reaction in his expression.

"Let's do this," he said briskly, keen to get practice over with. Then all he'd have to face was the event itself. Piece of cake, he told himself.

Holding out a hand to Sam he led her to the centre of the hut, the biggest open space inside with room enough to complete the dance. Looking her in the eye he waited for her to nod before beginning. Kara and Alden hummed, their voices joining in a pleasant melody that mirrored the music that would play at the Novus.

Dropping Sam's hand, Jack put a hand to the small of her back, walking her in a small circle. At it's completion he switched direction and hand, repeating that same slow walk. The tempo picked up then – taking her hand he raised his arm high, taking hers with it. She spun on her toe around him, once, twice, three times before stopping directly in front of him. When she smiled he smiled in return. From that point he was caught within the dance, the steps he'd practiced over and over coming together gracefully without active thought. Hands clasped, stepping back and then forward until they were almost chest to chest. Sam spinning under his arm to stop with her back to him. Forearms together as they slowly circled each other, eyes locked. His hand lightly to her forehead as she slumped and spun in place. Each series of steps repeated twice more. And then the finish, where his arms were tight around her torso as he lifted her and spun them both around twice before gently settling her to her feet.

The dance was gentle and yet he felt breathless as he continued to look at Sam, frozen in place. She was equally frozen, the moment broken only when Kara burst into applause, her smile beaming out at them as she approached.

"You were both wonderful," she exclaimed.

"Yes, well, we had good teachers," Jack said modestly, now looking everywhere other than at Carter.

"Thank you," Alden smiled, pleased. "You are ready for tonight's Novus. It will be our pleasure to watch you dance together."

"Samantha, I will return this afternoon with your dress," Kara promised.

"Thank you Kara," Sam sent Jack a speaking glance that warned him not to question her.

With a shrug he complied. He'd seen her in off world attire before – compared to the Shavadai, how bad could it be? Although, come to think of it, he'd thought Carter looked pretty hot in that blue dress. Maybe he should be worrying about what Orentis considered appropriate dress for women attending the Novus.

Taking Kara's hand, Alden said goodbye before the two took their leave. The silence felt thick and heavy after they were gone.

"I ah – I have some things to do at the gate," Carter gave him an awkward look.

"Go," Jack allowed, needing the time to convince himself that dance hadn't been as much a statement about their relationship as he feared. "Just don't be late."

"I won't be, Sir," Sam promised, hurrying away.

Alden came to escort Jack to the Novus while Sam was still getting ready. "Kara will bring her," he promised Jack with a small smile.

The event took place in a large clearing a short distance from the village, a space large enough to house hundreds of villagers attending the celebration. Lit torches and fires around the outskirts served to provide enough light to see well, casting a warm orange glow over everything.

He was sitting beside Valdis as their host told stories of other Novus celebrations when Carter arrived. Maybe he was supposed to respond to Valdis but whatever words had been in his head evaporated as Jack got his first look at Sam.

The dress she wore was deceptively simple – a swath of dark fabric that hugged her body to her torso before fanning out around her legs. Coloured thread was wrapped in an intricate design around the top like ribbons on a gift, the entire effect serving to accentuate Carter's womanly shape. She was tall and graceful and so alluring as she slowly approached, smiling a greeting at Valdis as she sat next to Jack. She looked at him then, poised nervously for his reaction.

"Carter … wow," he said, smiling. "You look … great."

"Thank you," Sam smiled in relief. "You look very nice yourself Sir."

Jack was wearing local attire too, in his case natural woven pants and a long shirt not that different from what he'd wear during his off hours. "Thank you Captain," he returned, amused.

The greeting pleasantries over, he gratefully turned his attention to Valdis, taking his cue on proper Novus etiquette from the other man. There was food and drink, something representing each season passed as they gave thanks for the cycle just finished. Valdis and a few others told stories for each season too, usually funny enough to have everyone laughing. More food and lots of conversation later Jack found himself feeling pretty relaxed.

"And now my friends," Valdis stood, speaking in a loud voice, "it is time for the Novus dance. Join me in showing your joy for the new cycle!"

Everyone cheered, things getting chaotic as tables were quickly carried into the trees so that the clearing was empty again. Musicians struck up the introductory chords, three times before everyone was paired and ready to begin.

Jack put his hand on Sam's back, giving her an encouraging smile. "Piece of cake," he promised.

"Yes Sir."

Just like their practice session, only a few bars into the dance both became lost in the movements. They followed the steps as one, in unison as though they'd danced that way for years instead of just once before. When the dance approached the ending Jack lifted and spun Carter, setting her down, part of him disappointed it was over. The music should have stopped but it began again. With a shrug Jack moved with the steps, starting at the beginning and guiding Sam to another ending. Again the music cycled and again they danced, caught up in the mood as they got steadily closer and closer until Jack felt her heart beat with his as he clasped her close for the lift and spin.

He lost count of how many times they completed the steps … he wasn't tired and sensed that Sam would be equally happy to dance into the night with him.

The cheering of the people around them broke the mood – the music had stopped, the dance was finally over. Because the occasion seemed to call for it, Jack took Sam's hand and raised it to his lips, kissing her lightly. "Thank you kindly Ma'am," he said softly.

"You're very welcome Sir," she replied, charmed by his gentlemanly actions.

"The creators must have been wondrous people," Valdis slapped Jack's shoulder gleefully. "Never have I seen such an effortless performance of the Novus dance."

"Kara and Alden were very good instructors," Jack excused, feeling himself flush.

"Indeed they must be," Valdis agreed. "We congratulate you on being the last couple dancing. It is time for you to wish upon the Novus stone."

"That's okay Valdis," Jack shook his head. "You wish."

"You don't understand Colonel," Valdis replied. "The honour of addressing the Novus stone falls to one couple each cycle, the couple able to outlast all others in the dance. No one else can take that honour in your place."

"Right, of course not," Jack muttered, giving Carter a look. "Shall we?"

"I'm okay with it if you are Sir," Sam replied.

"Okay, were is this Novus stone?"

"Beneath your feet," Valdis smiled when Jack shifted quickly, looking down at the ground suspiciously. Kara and Alden came forward and bent, brushing the dirt and dried grass away to reveal a small stone, perfectly circular, set firmly into the ground.

"You must kneel and place your hand, one each, on the stone," he instructed.

Rolling his eyes and earning a smile from Sam, Jack did as they were told, dropping to his knees in front of the stone. Carter did the same, taking a position that put her directly in front of him. As one they looked down at the stone. Jack wasn't reassured when he recognised the symbols as being similar to those inside the warehouse.

Gingerly he put his right hand on the stone. His hand looked big beside Carter's smaller one.

"Now … make your wish."

"I would, if I had any idea what to wish for," Jack muttered to Sam.

"How about world peace Sir?" Sam suggested, tongue in cheek.

"Not bad Carter," he smirked. "How about we both wish for a quick return to Earth?"

"That's what I was going to wish for Sir."

"Right," Jack nodded. Closing his eyes and feeling just a bit stupid he made his wish. He really didn't expect anything to happen but in hindsight maybe he should have. Light burst from the centre of the stone, engulfing both he and Sam. The light stretched out above them, enclosing them in a bright dome. As they looked points of light formed and brightened, shifting into constellations. Swirls of mist spun and formed planets that revolved around the stars. Everything flowed forward rapidly, constellations shifting and changing, stars dying and others being born, planets developing as they spun endlessly on their axes. They were witnessing the birth of creation, as represented by the evolution of space. Jack wasn't sure how long it went on for – he felt captivated by the experience, connected by his link to the creators and his love of astronomy. When the dome whisked out of sight he remained kneeling, looking up at an ordinary sky of stars. Slowly he looked down until his eyes found Sam's. Tears shone in her eyes, wonder colouring her expression.

The murmur of voices grew and Jack stood, taking Carter's hand to help her up as he turned to Valdis.

"It is … wondrous," Valdis said reverently.

"What's that?" Jack kept Carter close, concerned he'd broken something sacred.

"You have received the perpetual blessing," Valdis revealed. "Never have we seen anything like it."

"It's not wondrous Valdis," Jack held up a hand to stop the man jumping to any kind of conclusion. "Anyone with the right blood would get the same result. The stone must have been left by the creators too – simple as that."

"It is not simple Colonel," Valdis denied. "You have been blessed, and in so doing have blessed us all, for we have witnessed the dawn of our existence."

"So we're all blessed," Jack summarised, eager for his part in the ceremony to be done. Abruptly realising he still held Sam's hand he let go, careful not to look at her as he did. "I'm happy for everyone."

"You and Captain Carter have been perpetually blessed," Valdis reiterated.

"You said that before. What does it mean?" Sam asked.

"A couple will dance the Novus and then wish upon the stone. If granted the honour of creation, they will live together in eternal love."

"Oh," Sam said weakly.

"I bet you're glad you asked now," Jack quipped, amused at Sam's open mouthed surprise.

"Not really Sir," she murmured, sending him an awkward sideways glance.

"So, we're done here?" Jack asked. "Because I don't know about Carter here but it's been a long day. I could do with some shut eye."

"Yes, by all means, retire to your quarters," Valdis agreed. "Perhaps we can talk more about the blessing tomorrow."

"And perhaps not," jack muttered under his breath. He led the way, Sam walking close at his side, until they arrived at their hut. "One thing I do know Captain," he said, walking inside.

"What's that Sir?"

"You need to finish the gate – preferably before we stumble over any more stuff from the creators." Leaving her standing in the hallway he retreated to his room, dropping wearily to his bed.

Eternal love? Blessings? The dance and how connected to Sam he'd felt. All of it swam in his mind, until, with a sigh, he buried his head in his pillow and willed it all away, dropping into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Chapter 10: Ten Lords a leaping

"Electric communication will never be a substitute for the face of someone who with their soul encourages another person to be brave and true." Charles Dickens

With the bright light of a new day Sam realised how silly she'd been to feel awkward about what happened at the end of the dance. She knew better than to take local legends seriously. It had just been so … awkward. Live in eternal love … with Colonel O'Neill? There was no chance of that despite the part of her that had leapt forward at the idea. He was her commanding officer and they were bound by regulations and rules they both believed in.

No, the eternal blessing wasn't something she could let distract her – her focus had to be on the Stargate.

"Good morning Sir," she greeted the Colonel when she emerged from her room.

"Carter," he returned with his usual relaxed manner. "Heading to the gate?" he asked as she grabbed some of the bread one of the village women brought each day for their breakfast.

"Yes Sir," Sam smiled. "It looks like a perfect day for working outside."

"Off you go then," O'Neill waved a hand towards the door. "I'll be along later."

"Of course Sir," Sam nodded, taking her breakfast and walking briskly away. She felt relieved that things hadn't been weird between her and the Colonel - she shouldn't have expected anything else. If a small part of her was also disappointed, well that was understandable, right?

Arriving at the gate clearing Sam checked the components she'd been working on the previous day, planning out in her head the next steps and her goals for the day. She was close, excitingly so, and the thrill of it often had her smiling for no apparent reason.

She, Doctor Samantha Carter, was building her own Stargate! The possibilities were exciting too. New planets could be added to the gate network, perhaps for the first time since the creators themselves had traversed the galaxy. Of course she still had a ways to go, and some of the most complex tasks were still to be done – calibration to align the planet within the system, and the DHD itself chief amongst them.

Although she was indulging her scientific side Sam didn't forget that she was also a soldier. She did have a tendency to become absorbed in her work but still retained a sense of what was going on around her. When the vague feeling of unease she'd had since arriving to the clearing sharpened Sam straightened, listening carefully, her senses on full alert. It was a shock to the system to see a Jaffa warrior stride from the trees, armoured, his staff weapon pointed right at her. Her rifle was too far away to reach and Sam cursed herself for relaxing her guard.

Jack was still at the hut when his gut instinct kicked into gear. Something was wrong.

"Carter," he said grimly, jumping to his feet. Activating his communicator he requested she report in but received only static for his efforts. Grabbing his weapon he ran, his long legs eating up the distance as he moved swiftly through the forest. When he got close he slowed, moving stealthily forward until he could see the Stargate clearing.

When he saw Carter facing off against an armed Jaffa, her own weapon on the ground a few metres away, he reacted immediately. Moving silently across the forest floor he approached from behind, raising his weapon and pointing it at the Jaffa's head just as the warrior activated his staff weapon, ready to fire.

"I wouldn't," he warned intently.

"She is not of this world," the warrior spoke, the cadence and tone too reminiscent of Teal'c. He looked Jack up and down in that superior Jaffa way. "Neither are you. How did you get here?"

"Magic," Jack said sarcastically, moving a few steps closer still and circling until he was between Carter and the Jaffa. The gold tattoo on the man's forehead announced him as the first prime of a Goa'uld but Jack didn't recognise the design so he couldn't say who. Sending a first prime meant whoever it was, was very interested in Orentis – not good news for Jack and Sam nor for their new friends. "How about you?"

"That is not your concern."

"Come on, fair's fair," Jack kept talking, buying time. "I tell you mine, you tell me yours – that's how this works."

"You are not of this world," the Jaffa repeated. "Who are you? From what race do you originate?"

"I am the Great Oz," Jack quipped, his humour lost on the Jaffa but not on Carter. Her lips twitched and she looked at him expectantly, ready to take her cues from him. "We call ourselves human."

"Human? Oz?" the warrior's eyes narrow. "You jest." He pointed his staff weapon at Jack, menacing. "If you do not tell me what I wish to know I will wound you."

"Humans," Jack insisted. "You might know us by a different name. Carter, what did Teal'c call us?" He looked at Sam, nodding subtlely that it was okay for her to answer.

"The Tau'ri Sir," she supplied helpfully.

"That's it," Jack nodded triumphantly. "The Tau'ri!"

The warrior's reaction wasn't what Jack expected. He lowered his staff weapon immediately, his expression shifting from blank façade to intent interest.

"Teal'c of Chulak. First prime of Apophis?"

"That's the one, although that's former first prime to you," Jack smiled. "I take it you've heard of him?"

"More than that," the Jaffa looked as eager as Jack had ever seen any Jaffa look. "We are comrades in our belief that the Gou'ald are false Gods. In his absence have I tried to continue to win other Jaffa to our cause."

"Not that this isn't great news but you'll forgive us if we don't just believe you," Jack kept his weapon up, eyeing the Jaffa assessingly. "Who are you?"

"I am Gor'c, first prime of Camulus," the Jaffa replied.

"And what brings you to our neck of the woods?"

"Our ships detected a large surge of energy and traced it to this planet," Gor'c explained openly. "Camulus is much interested in acquiring new assets to build his empire."

Energy surge? Jack frowned, glancing back to Sam. "Aurum?" he suggested, remembering the large flash of light and how the air had swept over them when Aurum had transformed.

"It's possible Sir," Sam agreed.

"There's nothing here," Jack told Gor'c. "What you detected was another alien. They were here but they're gone now."

"Camulus will not be happy," Gor'c frowned.

"Can you head him off?" jack asked, deciding abruptly that the Jaffa was as he said, a comrade of Teal'c's with the same beliefs. There was no other explanation for his openness. In his experience most Jaffa shot first and never asked questions.

"Perhaps," Gor'c allowed. "He is expecting me to return soon with my assessment of this planet's worth. I will tell him there is nothing of interest here."

"Will that work?" Jack asked skeptically.

"This I cannot say," Gor'c admitted. "Ordinarily yes but Camulus is already on his way here. He will be difficult to sway."

A Goa'uld mothership on its way to Orentis? This just kept getting better and better! "How long?"

"A few days … a week at most," Gor'c revealed.

"Right, so we need to get the gate working asap," Jack glanced at Carter. "Can we do that?"

"The gate itself, yes Sir," Sam replied. "Calibration to the rest of the Stargate system, probably. Being able to dial out? Maybe? It depends on locating an intact DHD and I can't say how likely that is Sir."

"I will attempt to give you prior warning of our approach," Gor'c offered. "Camulus must not detect any signs of life here else he will send troops to claim this planet as his own."

"That's a lot of people," Jack mused. "We'll need as much warning as you can give us."

"Then I will return to my ship immediately," Gor'c said. "If I cannot sway Camulus from this course I will return. If I am successful I would ask only that you pass on my greetings to Master Teal'c."

"Done," Jack promised.

Nodding, Gor'c spun on a heel and strode briskly away. Jack and Sam watched him go until he'd disappeared behind the trees.

"Well … that was interesting," Jack muttered.

"Yes Sir," Sam agreed.

"Well, assuming this Camulus is as stubborn as Apophis, we should plan for a visit," Jack grimaced. "Can you really get the Stargate up and running?"

"With help, yes Sir."

"What do you need?"

"More bodies to help with construction," Sam suggested.

"I'll talk to Valdis," Jack agreed. "Anything else?"

"No amount of effort on the gate itself will count unless we can dial out Sir," Sam said. "I've searched the warehouse catalogue but … I'm not you Sir. I don't have the blood of the creators."

"And you think that would help you find a DHD?" Jack queried.

"I think there's a chance you'll be more successful that I've been, yes Sir," Sam admitted.

"Okay," Jack agreed simply. "I'll get Valdis to send you some help first and then I'll search for the DHD."

Sam nodded, turning her attention to the gate with renewed focus. As Jack strode back to the village he thought over their situation. The Goa'uld coming here was an unexpected spanner in the works. Whether it was Aurum leaving that had drawn attention or his no longer being there with whatever additional protection that had given the planet, Jack wasn't sure. One thing he did know was that Orentis was ill equipped to defend against a mother ship. Hell, Earth itself would struggle and they had a hell of a lot more fire power. Even if he and Sam could get back to the SGC in time there were no guarantees any defences they could bring through would be effective. Without at least a day's notice Jack didn't think it would be possible to evacuate everyone either.

Since they had no choice Jack would just have to push ahead. They had a plan, and with any luck, enough time to implement it before Camulus arrived.

Chapter 11: Eleven Pipers Piping

"Those who danced were thought to be quite insane by those who could not hear the music."

Angela Monet

Once he'd explained the situation to Valdis and gotten the other man on side to provide Carter with the help she needed, Jack made his way to the warehouse alone.

The village and the road leading to the facility was deceptively peaceful – no one would suspect the approach of the kind of danger the Gou'ald represented. Valdis hadn't wanted to believe what Jack was telling him, that his previously enemy free people were about to make contact with the worse of them all. Jack regretted the lost of innocence for another race and wondered how much responsibility he should be feeling. Would the Goa'uld be here if Jack hadn't arrived with his 'special' blood?

The warehouse lights came on as soon as he waved a hand over the control console – Jack could admit to himself that the responsiveness of the technology these creators left behind was disconcerting. He felt like he was getting praise for something somebody else worked on. Except, no matter how much he protested that he hadn't done anything doors still opened only for him.

Standing in front of the console Jack eyed it warily. How did one go about finding one thing in a database of many things? If he were Carter he'd no doubt think to approach it in some ordered, methodological fashion. He wasn't Carter though so Jack did what he usually did – jumped in without reading the instructions first. Sam had discovered a few days in that the catalogue system was voice activated – all he had to do was give it the right words and it would display whatever it had logged that matched and where it was located. Deciding, since the technology liked his blood so much, that direct contact with the console was the way to go, Jack rested his palm on the control pad. Then he started running through search terms.

"DHD – ah, dial home device," he began.

The console beeped "ba bam," the screen staying blank.

"Right, because we call it the DHD," Jack muttered. What would the creators call it? "Navigator?"

Another "ba bam" was the only response he got.

"Destination controller."

"ba bam"

"Address enterer."

"ba bam"

As he continued to randomly try anything he could think of that might describe what the DHD did, the console beeping seemed to take on a disapproving tone. Jack was sure if the creators were around they'd be regretting that he was the one who'd turned up as one of their descendants.

Getting more and more frustrated, Jack slammed his hand down on the console, glaring at it. How the hell hard could it be to get the system to show him anything stored in the warehouse they could use to dial the damn Stargate?


The console chirped happily, a familiar image appearing on the screen.

"What the hell?" Jack frowned. He hadn't even said anything … if this creator stuff was picking up on his thoughts then he was in more trouble than he'd previously thought. There was no doubt about the result though. Tapping the ancient communicator he'd grown accustomed to using, he spoke. "Carter?"

"Sir," Sam's voice came back to him loud and clear.

"How's it going out there?"

"Good Sir," Carter replied. "I already have half a dozen helpers eager to learn. What about you Sir?"

"I found the DHD," he said.

There was a pause and then the Captain replied. "You did?"

"No need to sound so surprised Carter," Jack complained. "Isn't that why you sent me to the warehouse?"

"It is Sir," Sam agreed. "I just didn't expect you to be successful so quickly."

"Worried I'll come out there and get under your feet?" he quipped.

"Of course not Sir."

He could hear the smile in her voice. "That's good. Listen, do you want me to find some muscle and bring the DHD out there now?"

"We're not ready for it just yet and with all the people out here I don't have room for anything apart from the essential components," Sam decided. "If you could just confirm that the DHD looks intact Sir we can leave it in the warehouse until we need it."

"Will do Carter," Jack returned. "I'll see you out there shortly."

"Yes Sir," Sam replied.

Eyes back on the console Jack was glad for the hours he'd spent with Carter finding all the stuff she already had out at the Stargate. He was able to work out where the DHD was stored and quickly confirmed that it looked okay, from what he could tell after a surface inspection.

They were in business.

Three days later Jack arrived at the Stargate clearing mid morning with the DHD, still in its box. Valdis had rigged a cart of sorts for him and now helped Jack haul the heavy load through the forest. He'd been in the clearing regularly since their meeting with Gor'c and still the amount of progress made since he'd left the prior day astounded Jack. They had a Stargate – inner and outer rings complete, chevrons in place. The only things left to do were to raise it from its horizontal position on the ground and hook up the DHD. Carter made some mutterings about calibration and the chances that there'd be initialisation protocols that would kick in the first time the DHD was connected. Without those, from what Jack understood of her ramblings, the task of hooking the gate into the network to be able to dial anywhere would be a mammoth one.

"Carter," he nodded for Valdis to halt the cart, moving to stand next to his team mate.

"Sir, just in time," Carter smiled and he could see her excitement. "We're just about to raise the gate."

"Well I wouldn't want to miss that," Jack drawled. "You know how much I enjoy a good gate raising."

Sam laughed. "If you want to help Sir, there's room beside Alden."

"Right," Jack nodded, greeting the other man as he moved to stand beside him, picking up a thick coil of rope and winding it around his wrist.

Carter directed the team, calling out instructions so that they'd pull in unison. It took effort – Jack had never appreciated before how heavy the gate was. After grunts, groans and shouts of exertion, finally they saw movement just before the gate rose with a smooth glide upwards.

Everyone broke out in cheers, clapping each other on the back and laughing. Jack had to admit it was a site – the Stargate looking larger and more imposing than it had when on the ground.

"Well done Captain," he told Sam earnestly.

"Thank you Sir," Sam grinned. "This is just phase one. Now we need to see if the DHD will work." She called out for attention, waiting until everyone was looking at her. "Thank you all for your efforts the past three days. I have to say I didn't really think it was possible to complete the Stargate so quickly but with your help, you've proven me wrong."

"You work to protect us," Valdis spoke for his people. "We know there are no guarantees but we also know that you and Colonel O'Neill will do everything you can to help us."

"We will," Jack agreed quietly.

"And now you wish us to leave you in peace?" Valdis smiled when Carter flushed before nodding.

"I need to concentrate on connecting the dialling device to the gate," she explained, even though most people in the clearly wouldn't understand what that meant. "If I don't do it right we won't be able to use the gate to evacuate you all, should the Goa'uld come here."

"We understand," Valdis motioned for the others from the village to join him. "Please let us know if we can provide further assistance."

"We will," Sam smiled. "Thank you all again."

They nodded, waved and called out farewells, Kara and Alden stopping to put a hand to Sam's shoulder in support, before finally the clearing was quiet again.

"You want me to clear out too?" Jack offered.

"No Sir," Sam countered. "I need you to help me position the DHD. If you could hand me the tools I'll need as well that will help make this go as quickly as possible."

"I'm all yours Captain," Jack promised gallantly.

He wasn't sure but when she turned away with a mutter under her breath he could have sworn she said "I wish."

"You and me both Carter," he thought.

It didn't take as long as he would have expected for Carter to connect in the DHD. When she pressed a symbol to make sure there was power, it lit up just as expected.

"Sweet!" he exclaimed.

"We're not there yet Sir," Carter cautioned. "This is where we cross out fingers and hope that calibration is an automatic process."

Jack held up his hands, fingers crossed, and then gave a nod. "Go to it," he urged confidently.

"Okay … here we go," Sam followed the instructions in the Stargate bible that came after those on connecting the dialling device, pressing some of the symbols and then touching two of the minor crystals to the control crystal

The inner wheel spun a few revolutions, stopped, and spun again as the DHD lights went off and on as well.

"Is it supposed to be doing that?" Jack asked, eyes on the gate.

"I think so Sir," Sam replied, still cautious.

When the revolutions and lights stopped for good they each contemplated the gate silently before Jack spoke. "So, where do we dial first?"

"Without a GDO we're going to have trouble getting approval to return to Earth," Sam reminded him. "How about the Nox Sir? Anteaus could dial Earth and vouch for us."

"If he's willing to even show his face," Jack countered. "No, I'm thinking Chulak. We can dial, find Teal'c old teacher Bra'tac, and then dial Earth again with his GDO."

"You know, we could just dial Earth and request they send through a MALP," Sam suggested. "All we want is for them to have a way to confirm our identity so they'll lower the shield, right?"

"True," Jack decided abruptly. "Dial Earth Carter."

Sam nodded, quickly pressing the familiar sequence of symbols before adding the seventh - the point of origin, provided by the initiation process.

The gate spun. When the first Chevron locked it was like music to Jack's ears. "Chevron one encoded," he said lightly, his eyes twinkling.

The remaining chevrons all locked as well in a familiar symphony of sounds, the kawhoosh bursting forth powerfully at the finish before settling back into place inside the circle.

"Look at that Carter," Jack nudged her shoulder with his as they stood together in front of the shimmering puddle of an open wormhole. "You made a Stargate."

"I did," she agreed weakly, looking like she couldn't believe it had actually worked.


Jack spun, confronting the voice emerging from the forest. When he saw Gor'c his jaw clenched.

"Looks like you got this working just in time," he told Carter grimly.

"Yes Sir," Carter watched Gor'c approach, her expression wary.

"I am sorry," Gor'c said. "I was unable to dissuade Camulus from coming here. His ship will enter orbit above this planet before the day is out."

Chapter 12: Twelve drummers drumming

"Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up." James Arthur Baldwin

"When Camulus discovers my subterfuge he will be very angry," Gor'c continued. "He will send forces to apprehend me, warriors who will not think twice before eliminating anything that stands in their way.

"We need to warn Valdis and the villagers to start the evacuation Sir," Carter said urgently.

"No, we need reinforcements first, not to mention a place to send them," Jack countered. Turning to the still open wormhole he activated his radio. "Stargate Command this is Colonel Jack O'Neill, authorisation number," he spoke confidently, rattling off the identification needed to begin convincing General Hammond that he was who he said he was. "I need to speak to General Hammond immediately."

"Colonel O'Neill?" disbelief coloured Walter Harriman's voice, not unexpected given Jack and Sam had been missing for weeks.

"General Hammond," Jack repeated insistently. "And make is snappy Chief. I haven't got all day.

"Yes Sir," Walter replied. Jack exchanged a glance with Sam, catching her watching him with an amused smile. His brow rose, a silent 'what?' that she read easily. She shook her head, her expression urging him to get back to what he was doing.

"Colonel O'Neill," the Texan twang of George Hammond raised a rare smile from Jack.

"It's good to hear your voice Sir," he replied.

"Yours too Son," Hammond replied. "Is Captain Carter there with you?"

"Yes Sir, she is," Jack returned.

"It's been weeks, Colonel," Hammond pointed out. "You'll forgive me for being sceptical that I'm talking to the real O'Neill, particularly given the last time either you or Captain Carter were seen was here, at the SGC."

"Understandable Sir," Jack replied. "Captain Carter could explain it better Sir but in a nutshell, that device she was working on, the one from P5E-343, turned out to be a one way ticket to another planet."

"If that's the case then why has it taken you so long to contact us?"

"Good question," Jack thought. "Because the planet didn't have a working Stargate until today Sir," he said. "Captain Carter made one."

"Captain Carter made a Stargate?" General Hammond sounded even more sceptical now.

"Not from scratch Sir," Carter spoke up. "We found one partially constructed along with a large repository of materials and the instructions necessary to complete it."

"Carter's being modest General," Jack said briskly. "I'd love to shoot the breeze with you Sir but we have a situation here. If you need further confirmation of our identity we'd suggest you send a MALP."

"What kind of situation?" Hammond queried.

"The Goa'uld kind Sir," Jack replied.

There was silence for a moment and then Hammond spoke again. "The shield has been lowered Colonel. You're free to return home."

"Excellent," Jack smirked. "O'Neill out." Closing off his radio he turned to Carter. "Grab any gear you want to take with you Captain."

"Yes Sir," Sam nodded, moving quickly to gather a few items Jack knew she'd use as a show and share of sorts, their evidence that Orentis was worth saving from the Goa'uld.

"Gor'c," Jack drew the watchful Jaffa's attention. "You're coming with us."

Gor'c inclined his head in agreement.

"Sir?" Sam looked surprised.

"We need intel Captain and right now he's all we've got." Jack shrugged.

"General Hammond won't like us bringing an alien to the SGC without the proper clearance Sir," she pointed out.

"Clearance that will take days Carter," Jack explained. "We don't have that kind of time. Besides, haven't you heard the saying? It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission," Jack felt compelled to defend his actions. Sam was giving him one of those disapproving looks she seemed to reserve only for him, the kind he imagined she'd give a wayward child misbehaving. "Let's go," Jack ordered, motioning for Carter to lead the way, and bringing up the rear.

He felt the tingle of the event horizon and then a moment later was stepping onto the ramp, his eyes going to the window above the gate room. The guards moved in immediately, P-90's raised to cover Gor'c.

"You'll need to hand over your weapons," Jack said in a low tone, keeping his expression open and casual like he brought uninvited guests home for dinner every other day. He gave one of the guards his own alien weapon willingly, nodding approvingly to the young marine who took it, eying it's alien characteristics suspiciously. Carter had done the same, leaving only Gor'c still armed.

The Jaffa hesitated but then handed the staff weapon and his zat to one of the guards without protest. The P-90's remained trained on him, despite his being unarmed. In response the Jaffa warrior held his hands out in front of him in a universal 'I mean no harm' gesture.

"Colonel?" General Hammond's voice over the loud speaker was stern, his attention on Gor'c.

"I can explain Sir," Jack promised.

"Briefing room Colonel … now," Hammond ordered.

"This is your commander?" Gor'c asked as he followed Jack down the ramp.

"Yes," Jack shrugged. "Don't worry – his bark is worse than his bite ... mostly."

Carter smirked.

"Don't say it," Jack warned, amused.

"Doctor Jackson and Teal'c to the conference room," Walter's voice echoed over the loudspeaker as they left the room.

In the conference room General Hammond strode in, the presence of the armed guards an unwelcome but necessary addition. Aside from Teal'c their experience with the Jaffa had been on the side of heavily outgunned. Gor'c might be minus his weapons but he still wore the armour of the Jaffa and was an imposing figure.

Daniel arrived a moment later, Teal'c at his side.

"General," Teal'c inclined his head respectfully.

"Jack!" Daniel exclaimed, eying his friend with surprised delight. "You're back."

"I'm back," Jack quipped. "Carter too."

Daniel glanced at Sam, giving her another delighted smile. "What happened? How did you …," he began.

"I'm sure we'll have time for the Colonel to answer all your questions Doctor," Hammond interrupted. "For now I'm more interested in what possessed the colonel to bring an alien to the SGC."

While Daniel and the General were speaking Teal'c had been assessing Gor'c, the presence of another Jaffa something he'd noted the instance he'd stepped into the room.

"Gor'c," he intoned.

"Teal'c," Gor'c returned, nodding to his fellow Jaffa. "It is good to see you."

"And you," Teal'c replied.

"You know this man?" Hammond queried.

"I do General Hammond," Teal'c replied. "He is Gor'c – first Prime of Camulus."

"The god of war and sky, in celtic mythology," Daniel commented. "Camulus is the equivalent of Mars in Roman mythology, reputedly a more violent version. It's said that he wielded an invincible sword."

"And this helps us how?" Jack queried.

"It's doesn't," Daniel admitted. "I just thought it was an interesting -."

"Colonel," Hammond interrupted pointedly. "Perhaps you can tell us all why you felt it necessary to bring an alien here without the proper authorisation."

"Because he has intel we need," Jack went for abrupt and to the point. "We can trust him Sir. He could have killed both Carter and I without even breaking a sweat but he didn't. Without his warning us ahead of time the people on Orentis would have been slaves to Camulus before the day is out."

"You can trust Gor'c General Hammond," Teal'c spoke without inflection. "He believes as I do that the Goa'uld are false gods."

"In your absence we continue to gain followers to our cause brother," Gor'c shared.

"Start from the beginning Colonel," General Hammond ordered, clearly frustrated with the piecemeal approach to revealing anything that would explain the absence of two of his best officers or their unexpected return.

"Carter," Jack looked to Sam to tell the story for them.

Sam nodded, immediately launching into a detailed explanation of how they'd ended up on Orentis and what she'd had to do to get them back. Jack broke in from time to time to add details and to tell the part of the story that centred around the creators and the fact that they'd witnessed the last of them ascending to another plane of existence. It was obvious how much Daniel wanted to quiz them about that part but Jack powered on, keen to get to the end so that they could determine their strategy for returning to Orentis.

"We need to get back there and get as many of those people to safety as we can before the Goa'uld arrive Sir," Jack finished.

"Forgive me Colonel but I fail to see why we should risk lives and expend resources on a situation not of our making," General Hammond replied. "What makes this world any different from the hundreds of other worlds also under Goa'uld domination."

"True, but the Goa'uld didn't go to any of those planets because we were there Sir," Jack retorted grimly. "Camulus was drawn to Orentis because he detected the energy surge of Aurum ascending, something he wouldn't have done but for us being there."

"The Colonel is right Sir," Carter spoke up in support of her CO. "The Orentians have been free of the Gou'ald for generations. I don't have proof but I believe something about Aurum shielded them from notice – as soon as he left they became vulnerable."

"And you believe this Aurum retired because of Colonel O'Neill," Hammond asked Sam.

"Yes Sir," Sam agreed confidently. "The Colonel possesses the blood of the creators … what I think that means is that there's a common historical connection between the Colonel and these creators that allows him to make use of their technology in ways I and none of the people on Orentis are able to do. The creators build the Stargate system Sir and although we know the Goa'uld removed the people of Abydos from Earth there's no reason to believe that all the planets in this galaxy were seeded in the same way. Perhaps it was these creators who populated some of these worlds with their own race. The stargate was here for millennia - it isn't inconceivable that they came here during that time as well."

"Whichever way you slice it Sir those people are under threat because of us," Jack said bluntly. "We owe it to them to help, any way we can."

Hammond looked thoughtful for a moment before nodding. "Very well Colonel. Work out how many teams you'll need to defend the village while we evacuate these people."

"Ah, to where?" Daniel asked.

"The Nox?" Carter looked to Jack expectantly.

"They'll be safe there," Jack commented, "and their simple way of life will appeal to Lya and Anteaus. Once the Goa'uld tire of Orentis the Nox can help them return."

"Doctor Jackson and Teal'c will go to the Nox to request aid for Orentis," Hammond decided.

"I will fight beside Colonel O'Neill," Gor'c announced.

The General looked surprised for a moment but then nodded. "We don't have the fire power to defeat a Goa'uld ship. Your objective, should Camulus arrive before the evacuation is complete, is to buy these people some time."

"Yes Sir," Jack agreed, already on his feet. "Carter, with me," he ordered, striding from the room.

"Jack," Daniel called, halting the Colonel's steps. "Be careful," he said when Jack turned to look at him.

"You too," Jack returned.

Mobilising a small army took longer than Jack liked, but eventually he was leading a group of armed marines through the gate back to Orentis. Despite the power of the alien weapon they'd been using Jack had to admit how nice it was to have the comfortable weight and feel of a fully loaded P-90 in his hands again. Gor'c had shared what he could of Camulus' likely strategy - they'd be outgunned if the Gou'ald arrived before they were done with the evacuation but there was no amount of planning or intel that could change that.

Valdis greeted them on arrival. "Colonel," he said with relief. "We feared the worst when you did not return to the village." He eyed the armed men emerging to surround their position warily.

"Sorry about that," Jack gestured to Gor'c. "Our Jaffa friend here informed us that the Goa'uld will arrive before sundown. Carter and I returned to our planet for reinforcements."

"We must begin the evacuation?" Valdis slumped with disappointment, the hope that the trouble the Gou'ald represented would pass them by dashed.

"Without delay," Jack replied. "We're here to help … and to defend the village if the need arises."

"Where will we go?"

"The Nox," Carter explained. "They're a peaceful people who lead a simple life much like your own but who have technology to defend against the Goa'uld. They've agreed to host your people until such time as you can safely return here. The rest of our team – Daniel Jackson and another Jaffa friend, Teal'c – will be waiting at the Stargate to greet you and to help you get settled there."

"Thank you Colonel, Captain. We are ready," Valdis straightened purposefully.

Over the next hour a steady stream of people made their way from the village, through the trees to the Stargate clearing and their journey to Nox. Carter recommended transporting in large groups, shutting down the gate between trips to save on power. Given the lack of time she'd had to assess the power source she'd used to power the gate it was a sensible precaution Jack was happy to agree to, especially since it didn't slow the evacuation down that much.

When the attack came it was out of nowhere. A burst of fire shot from the sky, blasting the ground near the gate as a Gou'ald Al'kesh flashed by.

"Take cover!" Jack yelled, grabbing the arm of the nearest person and urging them back towards the trees. Thankfully no one had been hurt but the return of more blasts cut off Jack and his group of Orentians from making it through the gate. When the smoke cleared he was glad to see that all those who'd been in position had made it through, Sam running to take cover in the trees just as the gate shut down.

"Is there anywhere around here you can hide, a cave?" Jack demanded or his terrified charges.

"There are caves, an hours walk from here," the person he'd pulled out of harms way offered.

"Sergeant," Jack called one of the marines over.


"Take your team and escort these people into hiding," Jack ordered. "They'll show you where. Be ready to receive more refugees."

"Yes Sir," the marine straightened. "Ma'am," he gestured for the woman to point them in the right direction.

That problem solved for the time being Jack re-focused on the immediate situation. The al'kesh had swung around and was approaching for another pass at the gate. The pilot must have realised the Stargate clearing was deserted because instead of firing he veered right, towards the village.

"Carter!" Jack waited for Sam to sprint over to him before they ran for the village, the rest of the marines with them.

The situation they found was grim. The al'kesh had already wrecked havoc, random huts on both sides of the street in flames. Another ship had joined the battle, the sounds of weapons fire not loud enough to mask the screams of people running in fright.

"Grab as many people as you can and get them to the caves," Jack ordered. Everyone fanned out, dodging the al'kesh shots as they rounded up the locals. They were heavily outgunned and pinned down – it was impossible to break away to head for the safety of the trees.

Then Gor'c stepped forward into the middle of the street, his staff weapon at the ready. The first al'kesh looped back and flew low towards him, firing bolts of energy in a line that led straight to the Jaffa. At the last moment Gor'c returned fire, his staff weapon hitting true repeatedly as he turned to follow the aircraft's path. The al'kesh, unstable and trailing smoke, veered sharply away from the village, slamming into the ground with a loud boom and cloud of rising flames.

Victory was brief. The second al'kesh, following it's brother closely, also fired on Gor'c. The warrior tried to return fire but it was too late. He'd sacrificed his focus to follow the first craft and couldn't get his staff weapon around fast enough. Bolts of energy struck him, sending his now lifeless body to the ground.

"Damn it" Jack yelled, the whole thing happening too fast for him to do anything.

He couldn't help Gor'c but he could use the lull in shots from above to clear more people from the village. Maybe half of those left made it to the trees before the al'kesh returned, pinning them down again.

Then things got worse. Jaffa warriors appeared from the forest in the direction of the Stargate.

"They have a gate up there?" Jack demanded, glad that Carter had stuck close and given him someone to vent his frustrations with.

"It's possible Sir," Sam agreed. She was covered in dirt and looked rumpled in a way he wasn't used to seeing but she was steady too, her eyes calm as she readied herself for whatever came next.

One of the marines fired first and then it was an all out gun battle, only instead of bullets the opposition where firing staff weapon blasts. The people cowered behind the SGC soldiers, nothing for them to do except keep their heads down and hope that Jack could hold off the enemy.

The P-90's proved effective against the Jaffa armour but numbers were against them. As they cleared one wave of warriors more would appear to take their place.

"They're using the Stargate against us Sir," Sam said grimly.

"Not your fault Carter," Jack returned, raising his weapon and firing a rapid burst to take down two Jaffa attempting to veer off and flank their position.

"We're going to run out of ammunition before they run out of Jaffa," Sam pointed out.

Hesitating for a moment, Jack nodded. "Time for desperate measures," he muttered.

"Sir?" Sam queried with a frown.

"Nothing Captain," he replied. "Listen, hold down the fort. There's something I have to do."

Sam looked like she wanted to say more but he didn't give her a chance, jumping up and running towards the meeting hall, dodging staff blasts along the way. A renewed frenzy of return fire had him grinning – Carter was laying down covering fire.

Once inside the meeting hall, Jack looked around, deciding that if this worked it wouldn't matter where he was standing.

"Aurum," he yelled.

Of course there was no reply – the now ascended man wasn't going to make it easy for Jack.

"Aurum. These are your people," Jack yelled, sure even though he couldn't say why, that Aurum was listening. "We're doing everything we can but we're just not ready to defend against the Goa'uld, not yet. There are too many people left in the village. We're pinned down and we're low on ammo – we'll lose them unless you do something!"

Nothing happened.

"Aurum," Jack yelled again, his voice hoarse with the effort. "They came here because of you – because your departure lit up their sensors like a fireworks display. Surely the rules don't preclude taking responsibility for screwing things up!"

Still nothing. With a growl, Jack slammed his clenched fists against the wall, ready to tear his hair out. He didn't have much experience with these ascended ancients but so far they weren't inspiring him, despite his prior regard for Aurum. "Where is it written that it's wrong to offer help?" he murmured sadly.

The air shimmered and then the familiar figure of Aurum stepped from the light. "It is not," he said simply.

"Then you'll help?" Jack asked hopefully.

"We already have," Argentum spoke, appearing beside her husband.

"You have?" Jack's eyes widened and he noticed for the first time the lack of noise from outside. "What did you do?"

"Merely redirected the Gou'ald's attention elsewhere," Aurum shared with a small smile. "Neither he nor his Jaffa will remember Orentis exists."

"That's … that's great," Jack stumbled verbally, unable to believe it could be that easy.

"On the contrary, what you have done here is far from easy," Argentum said gently. "You have convinced my people to renew our interest in this lower plane of existence, something we swore against many millennia ago."

"So you're not going to just leave us your stuff and then disappear?" Jack asked.

"We are," Aurum corrected, amused, "but we will watch over this and the neighbouring galaxies. We make no promises to assist you, unless the affairs of our realm overlap with yours."

"Right," Jack frowned, wondering if they'd gained anything. How likely was it the affairs of glowy beings composed only of energy would spill over into their physical plane? Still, it was better than nothing so he offered a nod and grateful smile. "Well then, we appreciate your assistance."

"As we appreciate your … uniqueness," Aurum said, tongue in cheek.

Jack decided one thing he could do without was the Ancient's version of humour, particularly when it was at his expense. "I should …," he nodded to the world outside the temple.

"Yes," Aurum agreed, he and his wife's form already looking less solid. "You must arrange for the return of our people."

"They're in good hands but we'll get them back here as soon as we can," Jack promised as he turned towards the doors. "Thanks again."

"Jack," Aurum said just as he got there. Jack turned to the ascended being now more light than anything else, his brow raised. "Remember what I said about time and what is meant to be," Aurum intoned.

"I do," Jack replied. Raising a casual hand in farewell, he quickly left the temple, heading to where he'd left Carter.

It didn't take as long as it could have to get to the point where it seemed appropriate to leave Orentis to its own devices, primarily because Aurum had removed all traces that the Gou'ald had been there. No burning huts to rebuilt, no remains to get rid of, just a grateful people to return home. It was the anti-climax to beat them all, leaving Jack feeling unsettled.

Valdis was appreciative and very keen to begin a more formal relationship with Earth, now that contact had been established through the Stargate. He'd accepted Jack's explanation that the creators had stepped in with barely a blink, his faith in Jack's connection to that race seemingly unshakable.

It was a relief to return to the SGC with Carter and be able to enjoy the fact that they'd made it home. After debriefing General Hammond dismissed SG-1, indicating that they would talk about the longer term treatment of Orentis the following day.

Yawning tiredly, Jack begged off going out with Daniel and Teal'c. He knew they just wanted to catch him up on what he'd missed but he just didn't have the energy to rehash everything. To be honest, he didn't want to talk about Carter or the weeks they'd spent with only the other for company either. They'd been back a few hour and already he missed her - the Carter he knew she wouldn't let him see now they were back inside the larger chain of command. Daniel was too clued in not to pick up on the fact that Jack wasn't completely happy to be home.

He'd changed into civvies and actually stepped all the way into the lift to the surface before Carter caught up to him.

"Sir," she called out, running to surge into the lift just as the door closed. She was dressed in civvies too, her breath faster than usual as she moved to stand in the corner opposite his.

"In a hurry to get somewhere Captain?" Jack queried, thrusting his hands into his pockets.

"Not exactly Sir," Sam replied. She hesitated for a moment, giving him a look he didn't have a snowballs chance in hell of interpreting.

"Just spit it out," he ordered, impatient to get done so he could complete his escape.

"It's just that you promised to tell me what Aurum meant when he warned you about not waiting Sir," she said in a rush, eying him before quickly directing her attention to the floor.

"I did, didn't I," he grimaced. Knowing it was a bad idea he still decided abruptly to go along with it anyway. "Fine, but you'll have to follow me to the surface."

"No problem Sir," Sam agreed.

The silence between them began to feel awkward as they made their way through check out and then across the carpark to Jack's truck.

"Can I give you a lift home?" Jack asked.

Again Sam hesitated before nodding. She gave him directions, waiting until they were well clear of the mountain before she spoke. "What do you think will happen with the Orentis warehouse Sir?"

"We'll assign a team to catalogue the contents, work out we have and how we can use it," Jack replied.

"Do you think we'll be building our own Stargates?"

"Why? Wasn't one enough for you?" Jack quipped.

Sam surprised him by taking the question seriously. "Are you kidding sir? The Stargate represents the greatest technological advancement we'll see in our lifetime. The chance to understand more about it's creation is something I've spent years working towards. Plus the potential to adapt the technology to other uses … I can't even begin to imagine what we'll gain from everything we can learn from Orentis."

"Sounds like you're bucking for a spot on that research team Carter," Jack joked.

"Maybe I am Sir," Sam said quietly.

"Really?" Jack's brows rose sharply. "You'd chose that over SG-1?"

"I can't answer that yet Sir," Sam said evasively, quickly moving on to give him further directions. When he pulled up in her driveway and shut off the engine there was a moment when he wasn't sure what to do next.

"Come in Sir," Sam invited, opening her door and existing the four wheel drive. She was unlocking her front door before he could blink – if he wanted to do what he'd promised he had no choice but to follow her inside. Besides, he needed to know what she'd mean, because if she was genuinely thinking about Orentis as a career option then he had some serious thinking to do to.

"Have a seat Sir," Sam gestured to the lounge. "Beer?"

"Ah, sure," Jack sat down gingerly, wondering why he felt awkward all of a sudden. He'd shared a house with Carter for weeks – they'd practically lived together for crying out loud!

"Here you go," Sam handed him his drink, sitting down across from him. "So, Aurum Sir," she prompted.

"Right, Aurum," he repeated, uncomfortable. "Let's just say that he made some assumptions about my ah … thoughts with regard to certain things. His warning was just his way of saying I shouldn't wait to pursue those … things."

"What things?" Sam called him up on his vagueness, her eyes locked on his face.

"I'm not at liberty to say," Jack replied.

"And if I were no longer a member of SG-1 Sir?" Sam asked quietly. "Would you be at liberty to tell me then?"

"You're seriously thinking about giving up SG-1?" Jack asked, frowning.

"The work we'll do on Orentis interests me Sir," Sam explained, "and who's better qualified than me to determine how we can use what we've found there?"

"But you'd be off world, all the time ... on the same world," Jack pointed out. "That's a long way from what we've been doing the past year."

"I know and I'm not suggesting I'd give that up lightly Sir," Sam stopped, took a visibly deep breath and then plunged in. "I'd expect to get something in return."

"And what would that be precisely?" Jack's tone went low and serious.

"To start with, I'd really like you to tell me what assumptions Aurum made Sir," Sam swallowed nervously but didn't back down.

"Off the record?"

"Off the record," she agreed easily.

"Okay," Jack decided abruptly that it was time to follow Aurum's advice. Sam's interest in transferring out of SG-1 presented them with an opportunity he'd be an ass to pass up. She'd be out of his chain of command, taking them both outside the boundaries of the non frat regulations.

"Aurum correctly guessed that my interest in you is well beyond that of team mates," Jack said, again quiet and serious. He avoided the 'meaningful' conversations wherever he could but that didn't mean he couldn't ante up when he wanted something. And he wanted Samantha Carter, now that the possibility was there that he could actually have her.

"Really?" Sam grinned, clearly delighted.

A part of him had wondered if he was setting himself up for a fall, the part that relaxed after her reaction. Against all the odds, and against what even he thought was sensible, Carter was interested in him too.

"Really," he said, daring to raise a hand and smooth a lock of hair back behind her ear.

"That's … wow," Sam grinned again.

"That's a good 'wow', right?"

"Of course Sir," Sam returned. "I wondered but I was never really sure and I knew you'd never ignore the regs no matter how long we were stuck on Orentis."

"And I can't ignore them now either," Jack said, regretfully settling back to reopen the distance between them. "If you're serious about the whole off world research thing then we need to discuss this with General Hammond." It would be difficult - she'd be on Orentis half the time and he's still be out in the field with SG-1.

"I'm serious," Sam insisted.

"For the right reasons?" Jack felt compelled to ask. "I can't let you give up SG-1 for me."

"It wouldn't be for you Sir," Sam promised. "I know we were stuck on Orentis but those weeks when I was working to build the Stargate were some of the best I've had since I joined the program. Don't get me wrong, I love being a part of SG-1 … but I love the research and scientific exploration too. The inroads I could make into our understanding of physics … it excites me Sir."

"I can see that," Jack relaxed, relieved that her inspiration for making such a career change wasn't about him. "So anything that might happen between us is like the icing on the cake?"

"Very much so Sir," Sam smiled.

"I like cake," Jack quipped, earning a laugh from Carter.

"Me too," she agreed.

They indulged in a few moments of mutual, silent admiration – staring into each other's eyes and imagining they could read what the other was thinking – before Jack roused himself. "Thanks for getting us off that planet Captain."

"Thank you for being honest with me Sir," Sam replied.

"You're welcome, any time."

The End


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