Summary: Abandoned off-world, living is about more than just survival.
A/N: Huge thanks to mrspollifaxfor
Jack broke his uphill stride and turned at the greeting. “Harlow.”
“Tell that woman of yours that I need that wheel fixed before market day.” Harlow was a good man, but Jack worried that if Carter ever heard him refer to her as 'that woman of yours', their comfortable arrangements with their landlord would come to an end.
Jack pushed his faded and taped cap back and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. It was going to be another hot one today. It had to be at least ninety already and the breeze hadn't yet picked up off the water. He hoped it would rain by the evening so they wouldn't have to spend another night sleeping out on the patio, but that was wishful thinking. The prairie winds blew counter to the coastal breezes and they seemed to have reached a stalemate.
“She say she'd have it back by market day?”
“Said she'd have it earlier if things worked out right.” The big man's shirt was already dark with patches of sweat.
“Then she'll have it back by market day. She's good on her word.”
Harlow nodded. “Figured she would. But Anka wanted me to ask.” He lowered his voice conspiratorially. “You know how wives can be. Don't trust a fellow to get the job done on his own.”
Jack figured it was more of a case of Anka not liking Carter than not trusting her husband, but kept his mouth shut. He liked Harlow. He liked the cottage that he and Carter rented from him on the upper slopes of Harlow's property. What went on between the man and his wife was really none of his business.
“Speaking of...” Jack turned back uphill. “If I don't get back with that brush I borrowed, I’ll never hear the end of it.”
The excuse seemed to be good enough for Harlow because he waved Jack off with a knowing grunt. “Tell her-”
“Got it covered.” Jack waved the borrowed paintbrush and headed off towards the cottage.
The trees that bordered the small yard barely cast a shadow by the time Jack made it back from running his errands. Tall and thin, he might have called them Cyprus on Earth, but here he just called them trees. And piss-poor shade trees, at that.
The door to the cottage was propped open and Jack was greeted with a sight that made him smile despite the dryness in his mouth. Or maybe that was the cause of it. If anybody had told him that the chief benefit of retiring off-world would have been Sam Carter barefoot in his kitchen, with her hair pulled back and a look of fierce concentration on her tanned face, he’d have signed on the dotted line before Hammond could let go of the clipboard.
If she heard him drop his bucketful of items on the counter behind her, she gave no indication. She frowned into the depths of the large canning pot on top of the kitchen woodstove and gave the contents a stir.
Jack slipped behind her and slid his hands over her hips. He leaned over her shoulder and inhaled deeply, expecting that inimitable scent of sunshine and earth and hard work that he always associated with her when she was tied up with one of her projects.
“Carter. That’s disgusting.” He stepped back and gasped for fresh air.
She finally looked up at him, slightly confused at his reaction. “That’s because it’s glue.”
Jack just stared back.
“For Harlow’s cart wheel? The one I asked you to pick up more nails for?”
Right. That one.
“Thank god. For a moment I thought you were cooking lunch.” Jack glanced at the crude calendar tacked behind the door. Even after three years and who knew how many planets, there was still something comforting about knowing what day of the week it was back home. Not that he really considered Earth home anymore. Not after they escorted him out the back door and made it clear that he was not welcome back in the establishment.
“Anyhow, it’s Sunday, Carter. The day of rest. Time to take it easy. Put your feet up. Enjoy the sunshine.”
She tilted her head at him. “You have something in mind?” Her tone was light and playful and Jack had to smile. He still worried about her from time to time. She’d confided early on that this was not how she pictured ending her career. It wasn’t how he’d imagined saying goodbye to the Air Force either, but he’d had a lot more years under his belt and a couple more steps up the ladder on her.
And she got bored here. Which led to the projects. The ones that Anka claimed were not the sort of work a woman Carter’s age should be doing. That Sam was not the definition of a ‘proper’ farm wife, complete with a gaggle of children trailing behind her and a root cellar undergoing constant restocking from her carefully managed garden bothered their landlady to no end.
Carter had no problem keeping herself busy, root cellar or not. She just got impatient with the pace of life sometimes. Getting a pound of nails, for instance, was a half day ordeal if you didn’t have the local equivalent of a horse to ride into town.
Jack poured a glass of water from the clay jug on the counter and took a deep swallow. He watched Sam move the pot from the stove and set it outside the kitchen door, giving it one more narrowed stare and muttering a curse at it under her breath. She was apparently done making glue for today.
He took another drink and set the glass down beside him so he could catch a wisp of her hair between his fingers when she leaned past him to grab the dishtowel off the counter. She paused as he tucked the strand behind her ear and slid his other hand around her waist.
“I might be able to think of something,” he said and she smiled and ducked her face, wiping her hands with the towel.
“It’s too hot for that today.”
Jack watched the freckles on her neck as she turned and he took the opening. He planted a string of kisses, working his way from behind her ear to her collarbone. Sam shivered and tried to twist away but he had a firm grip on the fabric of her skirts.
“We could go swimming afterwards,” he suggested as he pulled her close and leaned her back against the low plank table they used as a counter.
She half-heartedly pushed him back. “We could go swimming instead.” If she really wanted to put him in on his ass, she still could, and Jack was well aware of this.
“Afterwards?” He suggested again, taking the step back in their little dance. He held her hands loosely and arranged his face in one of his most pitiful lost-boy expressions he knew got to her every time.
She looked over his shoulder to the calendar and opened her mouth to argue, but he beat her to it.
“Instead,” he conceded, planting a kiss on her forehead for good measure. The one thing Carter had always been adamant about was that they needed to be able to pick up and run at a moment’s notice if they ever ran into any of their old enemies. They just couldn’t be flexible with a kid in tow. Jack sometimes wondered if maybe, deep down, Carter still believed it was possible to one day go back to their old lives. That she feared putting down roots and learning to call someplace other than Earth ‘home’.
“Thank you.” she tossed the towel at him with a smile. “You going to pack a lunch or should we eat here?”
Jack was about to tell her the he’d already picked up fresh bread when he’d gone into town that morning, but he heard their names being called from the yard.
He followed Sam outside to find one of Harlow’s older boys trotting into the yard. He envied the kid’s energy in the dry midday heat, but the boy was Rutan born and raised and probably thought nothing of it. It didn’t stop him from accepting the glass of water Jack offered, though. It was a long jog uphill from the main house.
“Father sent me to bring you word.” He handed the empty glass to Sam with a nod. “There’s a visitor from through the ring searching for you.”
Jack saw Sam stiffen, questions written clear on her face.
“Do you know who it was?” Jack asked.
The boy shook his head. “Only that it’s a man and he comes from through the ring. That’s all Father said.”
Jack scratched a hand through his hair. Not the best information. “Is he coming this way?”
The boy shrugged. Message delivered, he was eager to be on his way. Jack asked him to send thanks to his father for the message and sent him along.
Sam was already back inside digging through the wardrobe in their bedroom when he caught up with her. Their boots and a pair of zats were on the bed and most of the clothes that she'd spent yesterday washing and folding were now scattered across the floor.
Jack caught her by the arm as she turned to dump a pair of backpacks on the bed beside the pile of their remaining Earth possessions. When she turned, he saw the fear in her eyes.
“What's going on?” he asked casually. While he was alarmed by the news of someone asking specifically about them, he’d never seen this type of flight response in Sam before.
“We need to get a head start and hopefully get to the gate before reinforcements arrive,” she answered, opening the top of one of the packs.
Jack took it from her and set it on the bed. “We don't even know who's looking for us. Maybe we should go down and take a look first. Before we disappear.”
Sam shook her head and snatched up the other pack, her movements brisk and efficient. “I’m not getting captured again. That was the last time and it was way too close a call.” She still had the scar on her shoulder from the knife wound courtesy of an over-eager Jaffa. “I thought we’d buried our trail. They shouldn't have been able to trace us after that many hops in a row.”
“We don't know who's looking for us,” he repeated. Jack didn't want to bolt if they didn't have to. But Sam was right. If Anubis had finally tracked them down, they needed to make like the wind. “We need intel.”
Sam finally stopped packing. “You have a plan?”
It wasn't yet market day, but there was enough traffic between the permanent storefronts, the meal houses, and the brothels that they could blend in to the crowds around the main square. They'd borrowed a pair of Harlow's field horses with the promise that they'd be returned by nightfall. Not having to travel on foot cut the time in half and by late afternoon they were sitting at a table at a meal house bordering the main square, nursing tall glasses of now warm sweet tea.
Other than an old woman with a push cart peddling fowl, there wasn't much activity of interest. No Jaffa. No false gods wandering around and threatening people to find out their whereabouts. The town went about its business as usual.
Down here on the flats, the air seemed even hotter and the sweat running down her back made the zat stick to her skin where Sam had tucked it in the waistband of her skirt. She was just about to agree with Jack and call it a day when the owner of the meal house stopped at their table. They knew him as a friend of Harlow's who'd been by the farm house with his family on holidays.
He slid into the empty seat at their table, with a bar towel thrown over his shoulder and a smile for her.
“You sit out here with him all afternoon, and all that husband of yours buys you is a drink?” He teased.
Sam felt her cheeks warm and she ducked her head to hide it. What had started out as a convenient cover that afforded her a small measure of security on some of the rougher planets they'd visited, had now become a way of life. They'd never bothered to correct the assumption once they took up residence on Rutan. And it wasn't like they weren't shacking up. But after all the years of worrying about the integrity and appearance of SG-1, it still felt like an illicit charade.
“Oh, I'm sure he'll make it up to me later, Janen.” She sipped the last of her tea.
“He'd better, if he wants to keep a fine lady like you around,” Janen sent a knowing wink across the table to Jack, who, for his part, pretended not to notice. Sam was glad he had the sense not to encourage the man.
“Listen,” Janen continued. “That friend of yours? The one you came to meet? I sent him up to the farm when he came round asking about you.”
Sam choked on the mouthful of tea.
“You did what?” Jack pushed back from the table and gave her and firm smack between the shoulder blades. She waved him away and cleared her throat.
Janen looked confused. “Sent him up to the farm. He was asking for you both by name.”
Jack pulled a handful of coins from his pocket and tossed them to Janen. Sam thanked him and followed Jack around the corner to where they'd tethered the horses. Panic twisted her guts again.
“Think we can get ahead of him?” Jack asked as he checked the saddle on his mount.
“We'd better,” Sam pulled herself up and grabbed the reins. “If anything happens to Harlow or his family...”
Jack hoisted himself up, took the reins, and nudged the horse forward. “We'll catch him.”
They tried not to push the horses too hard. Neither of them were accomplished riders, and the horses themselves were bred to pull a plough, not bear a rider. Still, it was hard to ignore the sense of urgency as the horses patiently wound their way up the chalky road.
Jack had no idea what had been done to Sam when they’d been captured by Anubis. She never told him. He’d never pushed to find out.
They’d been separated almost immediately and subjected to the usual threats and oaths. Apparently these Jaffa had decided that even half of SG-1 might still be a force to be reckoned with, and Jack was led away in chains and leg irons. He didn’t see where they took Sam, but from the noise and commotion, he’d bet that her Jaffa had earned their day’s pay.
When she sprung him three days later, he was only a little worse for wear. His knee was still swollen, and between the split lip and the broken nose, he was sure he wouldn’t be winning beauty pageants any time soon.
Sam, on the other hand, looked like she’d fought her way out of her holding cell tooth and nail. It wasn’t so bad, if he ignored all the bruises, some of them already faded to yellow from the day of their capture. But the shreds of her jacket barely covered the blood on her shirt, and she cradled her right hand, tucking it out of sight when he looked too closely. When they’d finally found a doctor, she’d needed twelve stitches and a splint for her three broken fingers. Still, Sam was able to short out the lock on his cell door and they’d gotten off lucky.
They'd slept together that night for the first time, making love with a ferocity that had scared Jack, as if affirming their existence through touch and taste. Afterwards, lying tangled together under the worn sheets in a cheap rooming house, Sam had admitted that she'd been terrified of finding him dead and being left completely alone. It had been the first time ever that they'd known with absolute certainty that there would be no backup coming to pull their asses out of the fire. No Daniel or Teal'c with the last minute rescue. No SG-6 storming the halls with guns blazing. And if they'd been killed, nobody back home would have ever known. They might as well have been the last two humans from a dead civilization. That, above all else, had held them together and kept them alive since.
Now, as they approached the farmhouse, Jack watched Sam pull the zat out, check the power, and stow it within easy reach, all habits so ingrained that neither of them were even aware of the behavior. He’d thought of making a detour to the tool shed to pick up a little more firepower, but if Anka and the children were around, he didn’t want to risk a fatal stray shot. Rutan firearms were not renowned for their accuracy. Besides, if the visitor was armed with anything more powerful than a zat and a few hostages, it wasn’t going to be much of a fight.
Without a word, they tethered the horses to the scrub bushes just behind the barn. Using the out-buildings as cover, they crept towards the main house. Sam quietly cursed her long skirts; surveillance in town had demanded that she fit in, but it meant her mobility was also compromised.
The yard was quiet, which in itself confirmed that something was up. It was too early for the evening meal, but there were no children playing in the yard.
Flanking the door, weapons at the ready, he gave Sam a silent nod. There was no need to discuss the plan. Some things you didn’t forget.
Jack kicked the door and Sam rushed in, weapon aimed high.
The visitor froze with his back to them, then raised his empty hands.
“Turn around.” Sam shouted at him, eyes darting around the room, assessing the situation.
The visitor slowly turned and Jack had to blink. He wanted to believe it was a trick of the dim indoor light after being out in the sun, but he heard Sam gasp.
“Hey guys.” The visitor took a step forward into the light from the doorway. “Do you have any idea how hard you were to find?”
Sam lowered the zat. “Daniel,” she breathed as she rushed forward and wrapped him in a fierce hug.
Sam held on to him as tightly as she could. He felt so real and so solid and so very much alive. Maybe she should have been more skeptical. He’d been dead, after all. But she’d seen stranger things in the last three years since they’d left Earth. She’d learned how to live in the moment, and right now, here was Daniel, alive and well, looking a little dusty and travel worn. But alive. She didn’t want to let him go.
“Daniel?” Jack’s voice sounded a little rough to her ears. She heard the sound of his zat closing.
Oh how she’d missed that. And then she was sandwiched between them as Jack pulled them both tight, thumping Daniel firmly on the shoulder. They weren’t alone any longer.
“You know, there was no need to break the door down,” Anka’s voice cut through the huddle. “Your friend was no threat.”
“I’m sorry if we frightened you,” Sam finally stepped back and was met by the curious stares of the two younger girls. “We didn’t know who was trying to find us. Nobody knows that we’re here.”
“Your Daniel Jackson apparently did.” Anka waved a hand. “No matter. No harm done.” The woman had five boys of various ages. A roughly opened door did not bother her. She shoved the two girls towards the open door. “Back outside, you both. I don’t need anyone under my feet while I’ve got a pot on the stove. I’m sure Daniel will come around again so you can bother him for another story.”
One of the girls, Sam could never remember which one was which, gave Daniel a shy wave and pushed her sister out the door.
“Now,” Anka held out a knife and a bowl of green vegetables to Sam. “You and your company are staying for evening meal?”
Sam opened her mouth, unsure of how to answer and not wanting to offend. She really was trying to get along with Anka, for Jack’s sake, if anything. But they had so much to catch up on with Daniel, and she didn’t want to have to speak in code in front of their hosts.
Fortunately, Jack stepped in. “Appreciate the offer, Ma’am, as always, but our friend here has come a long way to find us. We have a lot of catching up to do.” He shot her one of his more charming smiles he reserved for the elderly and the easily wooed merchant on market day. Sam bit her lower lip to keep from laughing. All he needed was the ten-gallon hat to tip in her direction. He might as well have lived here his whole life for how well he’d integrated himself into the culture.
Anka nodded and reached deep into a cupboard by the stove and produced a dusty bottle. She handed it to Sam with a smile. “I have a feeling that Daniel finding you is cause for celebration.” She nodded her head towards Jack. “Just don’t let him forget that Harlow expects him out in the north field at sun-up tomorrow.”
“He’ll be there.” Sam accepted the bottle with a smile and held it up to the light from the open door. “But if this is from that still I fixed for you, I won’t be able to vouch for his condition.”
Anka let out a knowing snort. “Either way…”
“So.” Jack opened once they’d settled the horses and started up the road on foot to their cottage. They hadn’t said much until they'd left the yard. Daniel had stood back and watched them go through the ritual of chores that had become part and parcel of their life here.
“So.” Daniel had his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his worn trousers. He’d been on the road a long time looking for them.
“Back from the dead, huh?” asked Jack.
“Yeah, you could say that.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
“Pretty good, actually,” Daniel replied. Better, now that he knew they were alive. He thought he’d lost their trail about six weeks ago when he’d been on one of those backwater trading planets they’d usually avoided on official missions. He’d come across a barkeep that remembered a man and a woman fitting Jack and Sam’s descriptions being hauled out of his establishment by a squad of Jaffa about half a cycle back. Jaffa coming to collect people seemed to be a common occurrence, but apparently they’d put up enough of a fight to leave an impression.
The Tok’ra hadn’t been able to give him any leads. If Anubis had them, they were stashed away somewhere the Tok’ra didn’t have a spy undercover. Of course Jacob had been livid at the lack of information and had been ready to grab the nearest cargo ship and go in guns blazing. Until Selmak had reminded him that they didn’t even have confirmation that Sam and Jack were still with Anubis, if they ever were. Daniel had promised that he would track them down, reasoning that by traveling solo, he would have a better chance of finding a trail, if there was one to find. He figured that Jacob still hadn’t forgiven the SGC for the betrayal of two of its finest, despite the risks Hammond had taken to protect them.
“How?” Sam finally asked the question that Daniel was still trying to answer himself. She was walking close beside him, occasionally bumping shoulders as they made their way up the rough path, looking for an excuse to confirm again that he wasn’t an illusion through those brief moments of contact.
“I don’t know. I don’t remember much before I woke up naked in a field.” He shrugged. There were still holes in his memory that he could not fill, no matter how hard he poked at them. He’d already regained most of what he’d deemed important, and he knew the rest would come with time. “One of the people who found me remembered seeing me with a Jaffa a few years ago. They contacted Chulak and sent word to Teal’c. He came and convinced me to go back with him.”
Jack turned to him. “Naked?”
“Don’t ask, Jack. I can’t answer the one.” Funny how easy it was to fall back into the same old patterns. Like slipping on a pair of well worn blue jeans. “So what have you two been up to?” he asked.
Daniel saw the glance that slid between the two of them. Sam hesitated, but Jack answered first.
“Little bit of this, little bit of that. Mostly farming lately.” Jack pushed open the door to the cottage. “Here we are. Home sweet home.” Daniel let the vagueness of the answer slide as they stepped into the coolness of the stone house.
They ate a cold supper on the patio in front of the cottage, overlooking the ocean. A breeze finally rippled the water, and though it was still a warm wind, the moving air cooled them nonetheless.
Sam was content to kick off her sandals and rest her feet on Jack’s knee, her legs bared where her skirts slid to the side. When she had work to do, she preferred the practicality of donning a pair of Jack’s trousers and stealing his old belt to hold them up. But she had to admit that the loose cotton skirts that were the fashion here were much more comfortable in the summer weather. Besides, Jack didn’t seem quite as inclined to rest his hand on her bare ankle, like he was doing right now, when she was wearing pants.
If Daniel was surprised, he was doing a good job of not showing it. Or maybe he didn’t care. She didn’t, not anymore. She had nothing to hide. There were no rules governing the need for human contact. Not here.
She’d felt on edge since they’d returned, but she couldn’t put her finger on the reason. Sure, she was beyond happy to see Daniel again. But all through supper there was the sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop as Daniel colorfully recounted his adventures since his return to the land of the living. After all this time, being reunited with a little piece of home was too good to be true.
“So,” Daniel leaned forward in his chair and clasped his hands together like he was trying to broker a deal. “How soon can you leave?”
Sam felt Jack’s fingers tighten on her ankle. Thump went the other shoe.
“What are you talking about, Daniel?” asked Jack.
“Well, I just assumed that you’d want to come back with me and try to convince Hammond to let you come back to Earth.” Daniel blinked, surprised that they weren’t thrilled with the idea.
Jack took a sip from his cup and squinted out over the water. Anka’s moonshine went down smooth when it was mixed with water and the pink lemons from the orchard.
“I guess Teal’c didn’t fill you in on the part about us being exiled, did he?” Sam spoke up. She didn’t want to play referee between these two. That wasn’t her job anymore and as much as she loved Daniel, she didn't think she could be impartial.
“He did.” Daniel took a sip from his own glass. “I just thought that it’s been long enough. Administrations change.”
Jack set his drink on the arm of the chair and pushed to his feet. “Yeah. Well, some things stay the same.” He took a couple of steps over to the edge of the patio and stood with his back to them. Sam could see the tension in the bearing of his shoulders and the tilt of his head. She knew he was trying not to yell. Jack turned back to face them. “They brought us up on charges, Daniel. All of us. Even you.”
Daniel blinked. “It’s not like there hasn't been somebody trying to shut down the program before.” He stood and started to pace like he used to when he was formulating an argument to convince Jack why they absolutely had to stay just that little bit longer to check out those ruins. Sam didn't like the tension starting to build between the two men. “Anubis is gathering his forces to take out the System Lords one by one. Earth could be next. If we can prove that to Hammond, he'll have to let us come back.”
“Nobody's shut down the program. It's us they wanted rid of. SG-1.” Jack stalked back towards the cottage. “Let 'em defend the planet on their own,” he threw over his shoulder as he slammed the door behind him.
Daniel stared at the cottage door, his mouth an O of surprise. Sam took a deep swallow of her drink and wished, not for the first time, that they had a way to make ice cubes.
“General Hammond sold our houses,” Sam told him quietly.
“What?” Daniel turned back to her and sat down again.
“He took a big risk. He sold our houses. Put everything else in trust. He came through the gate in person and gave us the choice of prison or exile, but he knew we could never come back.”
“But there has to be a way.”
Sam sat up and shook her head. “There's a warrant for our arrest. The charges amount to treason against the government. It doesn't matter if they're trumped up or not, we'll still be arrested if we set foot on any US held soil. Including the Alpha site.”
Daniel took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Maybe Teal'c hadn't filled him in as completely as she'd thought. “There has to be a way to convince them. To fight the charges.”
“I'm sorry Daniel. You were dead. Teal'c chose to go back to Chulak. Jonas went home. He'd already been exiled once and figured he'd take his chances with his own government. Jack and I were honorably discharged.” Sam let out a small laugh and tucked a wayward strand of hair that had blown loose in the breeze back behind her ear. “On paper, at least.”
“So they finally won.” Daniel put his glasses back on and stood again, shoulders slumped. “They finally got us out of the way.”
Sam stood and gathered up the empty plates. “I'm afraid so.”
She squeezed his shoulder before turning and following Jack into the cottage.Part 2 here