Sam added a couple of big branches to the camp fire and sat back on her haunches, waiting to make sure the flames took before returning to her seat on a rock. She glanced at the three men completing the circle around the fire. They had finished their meals just like her, and one by one placed the empty MRE-packages on the ground.
There was silence between them. Not an uncomfortable silence, but the safe wordlessness of people who were quickly becoming close friends. They hadn't been a team for long and it surprised Sam a little how fast they were all coming to trust each other. Of course, it was a necessity for soldiers to rely on their team, but she couldn't shake a sense that SG-1 was on its way to becoming something extraordinary.
The silence stretched on. Soon they would bunk down for the night. Well, three of them would. The fourth would take up watch, making sure nothing surprised them in the night. Sam stared into the flames, her thoughts drifting on from their team to how lucky she was to be on it in the first place. The Air Force wasn't an easy place for a woman, and she held no delusion in the feat it was to earn a place on the premier team of the Stargate program. She even knew some men back on-base who didn't think she should be there.
"It's kind of funny…" she began, hardly noticing that she spoke out loud, and her voice trailing off with the thought uncompleted.
That was Daniel, the curiosity lacing his voice that reached her over the fire. She ripped her eyes from the hypnotic flames and connected with his blue sparkling orbs. A smile tugged at her lips at the childishly open question they held.
"What's funny?" he repeated.
"Oh, just…this team. How we came together. Came to be SG-1. I mean, it all kind of happened accidentally even though I guess we all had things that led us to the Stargate program in the first place," Sam explained. Out of her left eye corner she saw Teal'c bow his head in what she was learning to recognize as his way of agreeing. The Jaffa never used many words, but even though he as seldom showed emotion he was not as inexpressive as many believed.
She stole a glance in the opposite direction. Her CO was – unbelievably – a harder nut to crack. As a complete contrast to Teal'c, Jack was a sparkle of expression. Unfortunately it was mostly from the realm of jokes and sarcasm, so it was difficult to know what the man was ever really thinking. Strangely enough Daniel never seemed to have that problem. He read the colonel like an open book, often much to said colonel's annoyance. She fleetingly wondered if she could, and would, get to know him that well. The thought made her heart flutter and she hastily pushed it aside before it strayed further down the dangerous line.
"I know how I ended up at SGC, but I don't know your stories," she said, as much to distract herself as to get the idea she'd had out in the open. "Why don't we tell each other?"
The hesitation was clear on their faces. Despite their clear differences the three men shared at least this one trait; they kept a lot of their lives to themselves. Jack and Daniel shared a pregnant look. They knew a bit more about each other than the other members of the team. They more or less knew the paths that had led the two of them to this point, and neither of them was very convinced they wanted to disclose the stories of those specific times of their lives.
Maybe a modified version would do, Jack considered, knowing there was a point to Sam's suggestion. He shouldn't refuse it point blank; he knew the facts and benefits of team bonding. Sharing, honesty, trust – they were all integrate parts of what could make or break a frontline team. He gave a reluctant grumble in the affirmative direction and was rewarded with a bright smile from the captain.
Teal'c followed Jack's lead and gave another nod. He too was already mentally sifting through witch parts to leave out of his account. That only left Daniel. The archaeologist's eyes darted between each member of the team, returning time and again to Jack with just a hint of a pleading expression. Then he frowned and resignedly shrugged his shoulders.
"Alright," he finally said. "Why don't you go first, Sam."
She nodded – it was her idea after all so it was only fair for her to start it off.
"I think I've dreamt of going to the stars for as long as I can remember. My plan was always to make it to astronaut. But it wasn't that easy. I joined the Air Force, got my degree in astrophysics and whatnot, but the stars didn't seem to be getting any closer. I did my time of active duty – I flew in the Gulf War – and moved up to captain. Back state-side I took a desk job at Pentagon. Then this offer came across from some secret flank of the Air Force. I wasn't sure I was going to take it at first; it sounded kind of weird with all the top secret and classified hush-hush. Plus, the cover story was space telemetry already back then, so it didn't sound very exciting either. Nowhere near the kind of contact I wanted with space."
She paused. Across the fire Daniel was leaning forward, the interest glowing from his eyes. Jack stared into the fire, but Sam thought he was listening. He wasn't giving off his usual air of annoyed disinterest at least, so that was something. Teal'c on the other hand was politely regarding her with his unwavering gaze.
"What changed your mind?" Daniel asked, nudging her back to her story.
"I don't know really…I think I was intrigued. All the secrecy, it made me curious. Convinced me there was more to it than boring space telemetry. And boy, did it turn out to be. There are no words that can describe how I felt the first time they let me see the 'gate – but you know that feeling, don't you?!" Jack and Daniel nodded while Teal'c gave yet another of his understated head-bows.
"I worked on the program for two years before they brought you onboard, Daniel. Did you know that? I don't want to toot my own horn but…" she blushed a little but pressed on, "I did a lot of the designing of the dialing system, and research about the 'gate. We couldn't get it to work though. It was like knowing how a phone worked but having no number to call. Until you came around and figured it all out in just two weeks. Do you even realize how brilliant that makes you? I really regret not getting to work with you back then."
She looked up to meet Daniel's eyes again, but he had ducked his head and avoided her gaze. Jack on the other hand had shifted his eyes from the fire to their civilian team member. He knew Daniel was uncomfortable with the kind of praise Sam was giving him, but he wasn't about to save him from the embarrassment. Hell, it might do him some good; make him less self-deprecating.
Sam was almost at the end of her tale, but the next part made her a bit uncomfortable to admit.
"I…I should have gone through then, the first time, to Abydos." Jack turned to look at her and she suppressed an urge to squirm. "No disrespect, sir," she amended. "It's just, I worked on the program for years before either of you were brought in and…I should have been on the team. It turned out General Hammond thought so too; apparently I was one of the first people he asked for when the 'gate activated again. I had returned to the Pentagon after you got back from Abydos, Colonel. The program was put on ice and I thought that was the end of it. I went back to chasing my astronaut dream. I could hardly believe it when I got the transfer orders and read my 'new' location. You know the rest – utterly embarrassing first impressions and all." She felt her cheeks heat at the memory of the things she had said to Colonel O'Neill at their first meeting. Avoiding his gaze she met Daniel's eyes and was surprised by the expression they held. His puzzlement became even clearer when he spoke.
"What embarrassing first impression? I remember you being excited, but nothing embarrassing."
Her mouth fell open in a moment of speechlessness as she turned to Jack. He gave her a crooked grin and – was that a wink?!
"Well you know, Daniel, everybody finds different things embarrassing."
Sam couldn't believe it. She had been sure the colonel would have shared the story of her female assertion to everyone he knew, but it seemed he hadn't even told Daniel about it. A glance to Teal'c confirmed he had no clue what she was talking about either, as he met her eyes and assured her:
"I do not recall out first encounter to be of a shameful nature, Captain Carter. Worry not, you have nothing to regret."
"Ehm…okay then." Her eyes flitted between the three men again, but could not detect any sign that they were fooling her. Jack had actually kept the proverbial lid on their first meeting. Who'd a thunk?! She smiled at the colonel. "You wanna go next, sir?"
Jack's face fell for just a moment. In listening to Sam and enjoying her confusion he had almost forgotten what he had agreed on. There was no going back now though without admitting he didn't want to do this, and that would surely burst his image of carefree jokester.
"Yeahsureyabetcha." His response was flippant, and would have fooled anyone who didn't know him. His teammates however could each in different degrees sense the tension in his voice, not to mention the contrasting silence that followed. Daniel could also detect the dark shadows shifting behind his eyes; shadows he knew always lurked there even if Jack never spoke of them. Now Daniel wondered in which extent the colonel was going to share the memories connected to some of those shadows.
The same thought was hovering in the mind of Jack. Where to begin? He picked up a stick and poked the fire, sending a storm of sparks up towards the alien night sky. There was a reassuring presence to his right; he could sense Daniel's unspoken support.
"I had retired back in '95. I'd been in the Air Force most my life – Vietnam, Iran, Iraq, Germany. I'd had enough of death." His voice made a shiver and almost broke at the last word, and the thought of the one death that had given him enough of blood. Giving the fire another poke he took a breath to steady himself before continuing – skipping over the subject he refused to touch.
"General West reactivated me to take over the Stargate program in case Catherine – and Daniel – succeeded in activating the 'gate. I remember thinking the whole thing was insane, but…well, I followed orders. When Daniel cracked the symbols and the team was put together to go through, I headed it and kept following orders. I was fully set on blowing anything we found on the other side to smithereens." He chuckled and caught Daniel's eyes. "Luckily things changed while we were on Abydos. We destroyed Ra and saved the folks there, and then we returned home. I retired again, and just like you Carter I thought that was the end of it. Go figure the snake-heads would have different ideas."
The others nodded; the colonel's rueful smirk echoing in the expressions of their faces. A lot of things would have been different if the Goa'uld hadn't come through the 'gate. Jack didn't think it was all bad though. After all he might never have seen Daniel again if things hadn't evolved the way they had. The question was just if it was worth the price of what had brought them back together.
"That's it for me," he finished. Throwing his stick into the fire and meeting the dark Jaffa orbs through the flames he passed the turn to Teal'c, who with an inclination of his head accepted.
"It was Bra'tac who seeded defiance in my heart. He has been a good teacher to me for all my years with him. He guided me to a position where it was possible for me to defy my god." Teal'c frowned. "My false god. I thank you, O'Neill, CaptainCarter and DanielJackson."
"What for?" Daniel asked.
"You gave me hope that that which I dream of for my people will one day come true – freedom from the slavery of Goa'uld oppression. Not until you were brought to the prison of Apophis would I have dared to so openly rebel against him. Your advanced technology was enough to convince me that you would be the ones to aid my endeavor. That is why I aided you in your escape, and that is how I came to be at Stargate Command."
Teal'c's account was brief and laconic, free of emotion save the gratitude he voiced for them. The rest of SG-1 were becoming used to this, his way of expression. He was still very alien to them, but despite his strangeness loyalty made his emotions clear to those who cared to observe.
For the third time attention shifted around the fire and Daniel felt his teammates' eyes on him. I'm not ready. In an attempt to stall he picked up the coffee ration from his MRE.
"Anyone else want some coffee?" he asked while reaching for the pot.
"Sure." Jack was quick to answer, handing over his canteen of water for Daniel to fill the pot.
The silence returned as they waited for the water to boil and mixed it with the powdered drink in their cups. To Daniel it was a nervous silence that he tried as far as possible to prolong. None the less, eventually they had all settled back to hear his story. He twisted the cup in his hands and watched the black fluid twirl.
"I had recently published my theories on crosspollination and alien influence on ancient cultures. You all know what the scientific archaeological community thought about that – and still do, I suppose. I was giving a speech on it when Catherine approached me. The whole audience left before I had finished. I'll never forget the look on my mentor's face. He was so disappointed in me." Daniel sighed and continued with a sadly musing tone of voice. "I had little of a choice when it came to whether I should take the job. Like Catherine pointed out on that our first meeting – I had been evicted, my grants had run out and I was well on my way to making myself a persona non grata with every serious historian in the country. I only hesitated because the Air Force was involved. I never liked the military. No offence, Jack."
He gave Jack an apologetic wisp of a smile. Sam ignored the fact that he hadn't apologized to her. The colonel grinned back at Daniel and waved dismissively.
"None taken, buddy."
Daniel's smile widened.
"I don't regret taking Catherine's offer. The cover stones were extraordinary. As usual though I don't think I made many friends. Myers can't have been very happy when I came in and redid his entire translation – but it was wrong. I got so intrigued though that I thought nothing of it. I have a tendency to get absorbed in my work."
"Yeah, we've noticed that Danny," Jack said with a little laugh, eliciting an embarrassed squirm from the archaeologist.
"Ah, well…ehm…Where was I? The solution to the unfamiliar glyphs on the cover stones came to me when I spotted an article about Orion in a paper. Then I found out the rest, and I knew I had to go through the Stargate."
"Yeah, I remember you lied to us about being able to get us home."
"Actually, Jack, I thought I would be able to figure it out so technically I didn't lie."
"If you say so, Daniel."
"Either way, things got a whole lot more complicated when we met the abydonians. We couldn't let Ra continue to treat them that way. But I couldn't let you go through with the general's plan either, Jack. I'm so glad you came up with beaming the bomb to Ra's ship instead of letting it explode on the planet's surface."
"You know, it wasn't just my idea."
Daniel ignored Jack's interruption.
"I'm also glad you let me stay behind when you went back. I think that year with Sha're was the best time of my life. I've never been so happy, at least not since…I was a child." Just like Jack, Daniel skirted past a portion of his tale he wasn't comfortable sharing. Despite being seemingly much more open with his emotions than the colonel, they had more in common than it seemed at first glance. Daniel had his share of dark memories and deep scars that made him keep a lot of his personal emotions to himself. His defenses were different from Jack's, but none the less real. Jack hid behind his humor while Daniel hid in his work, his passionate strive for knowledge, and pushed himself aside to the benefit of others.
The silence stretched out as Daniel seemed to become lost in thought. Jack leaned over towards him and placed a strong hand on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. The gesture was uncharacteristically tender, but Sam got the feeling she was witnessing the true relationship between the two men. It was a confirmation of something she had been suspecting for a while now; that beneath the jokes and jabs they exchanged there was a bond stronger than steel.
They sat in stillness for a while, Jack with his hand on Daniel's hunched shoulder and Sam and Teal'c avoiding to intrude by directing their eyes to the fire. Then Daniel seemed to wake from his contemplation, shrugging off the colonel's hand with an apologetic smile.
"Sorry," he muttered. "I kind of got lost in thought there. Was I finished?"
Jack and Sam nodded.
"I believe so," Teal'c said.
"And I believe it's time to get some shut-eye before we run out of night to do so." Jack clapped his hands together and reached for his sleeping bag. "Carter, you're on first watch."
Daniel and Teal'c crawled into their bags as well and soon the camp was still, except for a slight snore from Jack's side of the fire. Rising to make a quick sweep of the area Sam smiled contently. It hadn't quite been a heart to heart full disclosure sharing but it had worked out well. She knew a little more about the paths that had brought the team together, and more importantly she understood her teammates a bit better. There had been many things not said, but one couldn't expect people to lay everything out in the open to people they hardly knew. They'd only been a team for a couple of months after all, but hopefully this night's conversation would have brought them a bit closer together. These men were more than just her team; she hoped over time they would become her friends.