It’s late by the time Sam wakes up, the cabin already empty of people. Only a somewhat morose looking muffin waits for her, sitting on the counter next to a handwritten note. She’s missed breakfast. Again.
Avoiding the note, she pulls off the top off the muffin, nibbling at it as she looks around the room. It’s a rental, but more like a compound than a cabin. She thinks she remembers Daniel mentioning it belongs to some Senator.
Like most things these days, it’s all wrong. Too big, too bright, too polished.
SG-1 earned this last little vacation together, no question. Sam just isn’t sure this is the best setting to do it. If they are looking for symbolic closure, a final team trip together before everyone goes off in their own direction, this place is a poor replacement for Jack’s much talked about cabin.
She wonders, not for the first time, how Jack feels, being too famous to visit his own cabin anymore. It seems a strange reward for all they’ve done for this planet.
It had taken eight long years of fighting to defeat the Goa’uld once and for all, but only three months of public knowledge of the Stargate Program to drive SG-1to the secret retreat of a government bigwig in order to get some peace and quiet for once.
The few bites Sam has eaten settle uncomfortably in her stomach. She tosses the rest of the muffin into the trashcan, only to see her own face staring up at her from under the crumbs. It’s the front page of a local morning newspaper. The word Stargate catches her eye before she drops the lid back down.
She’s pretty damn tired of hearing about Sam Carter.
Voices break in on the complete silence of the cabin, familiar footsteps coming up the front walk. Slipping the unread note into her pocket, she turns and heads out onto the back deck only to stop short.
Sha’re and Teal’c are sitting together at a small table, looking out over the undeniably spectacular view. The forest drops off below them like a carpet spreading toward the distant sparkle of a lake nestled against the foot of a majestic range of mountains. Sam can’t even begin to image how much a place like this must have cost.
Teal’c has one of his many hats pulled low over his forehead even though he no longer needs to hide. It’s possible he’s just come to like them over the years.
That makes her sad, and she has no idea why.
She wonders if he’ll keep wearing them when he moves to Dakara.
Next to Teal’c, Sha’re has her dark hair pulled back into a tidy bun at her nape, and even in the mid-summer heat, wears a long-sleeved linen shirt and jeans. Neither her time submitted to Amaunet’s questionable fashion sense nor the five years since that she’s lived on Earth have erased Sha’re’s inherent modesty.
Sam likes to think of it as evidence that some things really can remain fundamental enough to a person that no amount of evil or experience can change them.
“Colonel Carter,” Teal’c says by way of greeting. “Did you sleep well?”
She stiffens slightly, feeling a beat of annoyance at herself right on the heels of the inadvertent reaction. From anyone else, she would have assumed it a dig at sleeping in until such an indecently late hour, but she knows Teal’c has no such ulterior motive.
When had she become so suspicious of everyone’s words?
“I did, thanks,” she says, the lie rolling effortlessly off her tongue. In truth she’s still exhausted despite the twelve hours sleep she’d gotten the night before, but she’s not sure she can handle one more concerned look. Let alone one more question about how she’s doing with the whole ‘situation’.
Her entire life is an open book to the public at large. How do they really expect her to be doing?
She’s always been a private person; she just never realized exactly how fundamental it was until now. It’s an uncomfortable way to learn that she’s had way more secrets over the years than she’d been aware of. Even from those who were supposed to be closest to her.
Teal’c is watching her intently, and it’s like the claustrophobic press of yet another wall.
She can’t help but think she’s missed her exit somewhere.
“I was thinking of taking a walk,” Sha’re says, pushing to her feet in one graceful movement. “Would you like to come with me, Sam?”
Sam looks at her in surprise, searching her face for some sign of her motives, the reason for the invitation. She doesn’t find anything, though, because as long as they’ve known each other, they’ve never really been all that close.
Behind her, the patio door slides open, Jack and Daniel joining them.
“Yes,” Sam says to Sha’re, the word a rush of relief.
* * *
Sam knew Sha’re for all of five hours before Apophis descended upon Abydos and snatched her. It wasn’t much to go on when she was finally freed three long years later, but enough for Sam to be discomforted by the fleeting memory of her demure submissiveness, her apparent willingness always to put everyone else ahead of herself.
Sam couldn’t help but see it as just another example of patriarchical upbringing gone horribly bad, another woman who didn’t know her own value. Sam remembers being vaguely disappointed in Daniel way back then, and almost equally ill at ease with her pity for the newly freed Sha’re.
But that was only until the first time Sam accidentally stumbled in on one of their arguments. Daniel was red in the face, muttering loudly, in that nearly blind with frustration phase that he rarely reached anymore, which only made it that much more dangerous when he did. With one glance, Sam knew that he was at his most belligerent and her instincts urged her to flee, so sure that there was no way to deal with him in this mood.
As Sam tried to retreat unnoticed, however, her eyes came to rest on Sha’re, who stood a few feet away, hands on her hips, eyes fairly crackling with fire and Sam suddenly had no problem envisioning the Abydonian boldly sharing forbidden secrets with Daniel, demanding that her people know the truth at all costs, and standing up to face down a god.
“Daniel,” Sha’re said once, her voice low and firm. She didn’t shout, didn’t throw her arms up and walk away, just stood her ground with that simple word, a word that spoke volumes without need of anything else.
Daniel’s eyes latched onto her, staring as she cocked her head slightly to the side as if questioning if he really wanted to approach whatever problem they were having in this particular manner.
Another moment and Daniel released a loud breath, seeming to deflate as he shook his head, climbing back from the edge and moving across the room to touch his wife on the arm in apology.
That was the moment Sam finally got it. She still thinks that’s probably the first time she actually saw Sha’re, and not just the skin-deep gentle Abydonian woman visage she’d begun to mistake for truth.
Sam likes to think she’s learned a lot since then, to never rely on appearances alone, but lately surface is the only truth she can offer.
It’s what the world expects.
* * *
Sam and Sha’re walk for almost a mile without speaking, just walking one behind the other along a forest path. Sam is happy to let Sha’re lead, staring at the back of her feet as they follow the small path through the trees.
Sha’re seems perfectly content with their silence, but the longer it stretches, the more awkward it seems to becomes. Sam spends the second mile anxiously digging around for any sort of small talk to occupy them.
“What made you decide to stay on Earth?”
Sam winces as the question leaves her mouth, because while it’s something she’s always wanted to ask, it’s not exactly small talk. They’ve never done personal, which, upon reflection, is probably Sam’s fault.
Sha’re pauses, looking back over her shoulder at Sam, something like surprise on her face.
Until this moment, Sam has always suspected that Daniel was the real reason Sha’re stayed, that maybe he had been unwilling to give up everything that had become his life in the years between her abduction and rescue. Only now does it register that three years enslaved to a Goa’uld would make self-determination an understandable obsession and that maybe not even Daniel could have been enough to make her do something not of her own choosing.
They walk on in silence for several minutes. Sam hopes that she hasn’t offended Sha’re with the question, but rather that the woman is giving her answer some thought. Sha’re has never been one to speak off the cuff.
“I could not go back to Abydos,” Sha’re eventually says, stopping at the base of a large tree, her hands spread wide against the bark.
Sam walks up next to her, something more than exertion squeezing at her chest. Were the Abydonians truly superstitious enough not to accept her back?
Sha’re catches her eye, shaking her head slightly. “My people would have welcomed me,” she says, answering the unspoken assumption. “They would have treated me as if nothing had changed, and in time even their staring at my back and speaking behind their hands as I passed would have faded.”
Sam winces at the all too familiar image of constantly watching eyes, equally full of wonder and judgment. She thinks about the day she made the mistake of trying to buy milk in a store like she was still a normal person and not an object of curiosity.
“Then why didn’t you go back?” Sam asks, forcing her attention back on the woman next to her.
Sha’re reaches up to a branch above her head, the long, stiff needles sliding through her fingers. “Because I am changed, and to pretend otherwise is to be dishonest, no matter how tempting it might have been.”
Personally, Sam can think of worse things to be than dishonest.
Next to her, Sha’re pulls a branch down her face, breathing in deeply as if the scent of pine were a fine perfume.
“Even after all this time,” Sha’re says, leaning back to look up at the canopy above them, “there is still part of me that finds forests like this completely miraculous.”
She says it like a confession, the unguarded wonder in her voice conjuring unexpected wistfulness in Sam.
“I suppose I will always be a desert child, no matter how far I wander,” Sha’re says, pushing away from the trunk of the tree.
Sam falls into step next to her as they start back up the path. “Do you miss it?”
Her smile is sad, but accepting. “Every day.”
* * *
Some distance later, they come to a stop at a fork in the path. Sha’re’s eyes slide over to Sam in question. Which way?
Off to the left, the path meanders down into an open meadow, while the one on the right is crooked and slightly overgrown with a hand painted sign that reads “Alma’s Peak.” Peering up the path, Sam can’t quite tell where it leads.
Maybe that’s its appeal.
“That way,” Sam says, pointing to the right.
Sha’re nods, the mysterious smile on her face giving Sam the ridiculous feeling she’s just passed some unspoken test.
The path to Alma’s Peak is not particularly well maintained, forcing them back into single file. Fairly quickly the topography takes a sharp upward turn, requiring occasional near-vertical climbing and clambering over fallen trees, but neither of them pause, or discuss going back. They just scrabble up the path with hands and feet as if something important rests on their ability to crest this particular peak.
Three months ago, Sam had given up her morning running routine the day after the first classified documents went public. SG-1’s off-world missions were replaced with briefing rooms and interviews. She’s still trying to decide which is more perilous, saving the world or being a celebrity.
All told, she’s embarrassingly out of shape. Above her, Sha’re is steadily picking her way up the path, and Sam is childishly gratified to see the trickle of sweat shining on the back of her neck. The silence between them now is one born of total concentration rather than awkwardness.
Almost as if feeling Sam’s eyes on her back, Sha’re pauses to swipe at her forehead with the back of her hand. “You are avoiding them,” she says.
“Yes,” Sam confirms without thinking. At this point, she doesn’t have enough breath left to lie, let alone delude herself. They both know the only reason she accepted Sha’re’s invitation in the first place was to get away from her teammates.
Former teammates, that is.
Sam is surprised no one before had ever discovered this simple secret to getting Sam Carter to spill her guts: talk to her in the middle of intense exertion when she’s too distracted to hold back.
Luckily most of the time she had spent involved in exertion during the last decade, she was under fire from bad guys, and no one had the time or inclination to talk.
Did she honestly just feel gratitude to the Jaffa for being a pain in her ass? She’s definitely losing it.
“Do you even know why?” Sha’re asks, no incredulity in her voice, just simple curiosity layered beneath her slightly labored breathing.
Sam should have an answer for that, just like she has all her answers nicely lined up these days (you never know when a reporter might pounce), but all her rationalizations are looking pretty thin as she’s clinging to the side of an inhospitable trail.
“Honestly?” Sam says, pausing to stretch a kink out of her back. “This is the stuff I’m pretty dumb about.”
Above her, Sha’re is laughing. With her hands occupied, Sha’re can’t cover her mouth like she usually does and the rich, unmuffled sound bounces back against the face of the hill, tumbling down through the trees.
Sam should probably be affronted by her amusement.
It’s not until she registers the stabbing pain under her rib that she realizes she’s laughing too.
* * *
“Oh, thank God,” Sam says as they finally reach the top. Her lungs are burning, her legs twitching in protest. They really should have thought to bring some water with them. So much for her finely honed survival skills. But then again, they were supposed to be taking a leisurely stroll, not climbing up cliffs.
Around them the trees have dropped away, forming a perfect clearing on the peak. Another moldering sign with faded writing sits off to the side, partially lost in the encroaching shrubs.
“I wonder who Alma was,” Sha’re says, peering at the sign.
“Probably a mountain goat,” Sam quips, dropping onto her back and staring up at the wide blue sky arcing above them as she tries to catch her breath.
The skin around Sha’re’s eyes crinkles as she smiles, but Sam can tell it’s not quite genuine. She either doesn’t get the reference or thinks Sam has an abominable imagination.
“She must have been a great woman to have a spot such as this named after her,” Sha’re muses, sitting down and stretching her legs out in front of her.
Sam wonders if she should explain the American habit of naming things and places after people, usually someone dead, or tragic, and just as quickly forgotten. Granted, a hilltop with a view like this one is slightly better than the average park bench.
There are plans in the works to build a Sam Carter Elementary School somewhere in Arizona.
She’s not dead. Does that means she’s tragic?
“I didn’t think we’d win.”
The confession slips out before Sam can really think about it, her entire body stilling as if waiting for the inevitable catastrophic backlash for letting those particular words leave her mouth.
It had been dangerous enough even thinking them.
Somewhere nearby a bird calls out though, the wind continuing to blow softly, and Sam lets out a breath. Turning her head, she looks at Sha’re where she sits in a patch of grass, a supple, green blade twining through her fingers. She looks confused, as if she has not quite grasped all of Sam’s words.
“The war with the Goa’uld?” she asks.
“Yes,” Sam says, feeling a bit breathless.
“Is that wrong?”
Sam is thrown off balance, an entire lifetime of training slamming headlong into Sha’re’s simple question. There is no time for hesitation in combat. If you want to win, you have to believe. These are the simple assumptions that kept Sam alive all these years. Or so she’s thought.
“I didn’t think we’d win,” Sam says again, louder this time, feeling actual relief in the wake of it. Those treacherous words have been worming their way out for months, long months full of people asking questions about close calls, and major breakthroughs, wanting to hear about heroes. The underlying truth has always been that she never actually believed they’d win.
“You don’t think that makes me…weak?” Sam asks.
Sha’re pulls her legs into her chest, lowering her chin to her knees. It makes her look incredibly small. “There were times I was certain I would never be free of Amaunet.”
“Really?” Sam asks, surprised to hear her willingly mention her time with her former Goa’uld. Sam still avoids any mention of Jolinar like the plague, and she’d only been blended for a matter of days, not years.
“Of course,” Sha’re says with a shrug. “I knew Daniel would never stop looking, and that I, too, would fight as long as I could…but sometimes trying is simply not enough.”
It’s weird for Sam to hear her comfortable acceptance of doubt as something excusable, or even worse, as something indelibly human.
Sam’s skepticism must show, because Sha’re leans forward, her hands now punctuating her words with emphasis. “Does is it not mean something that we are weak and full of doubt, and yet it is us who sit here, and not the gods? In the end, their arrogance and certainty did not save them.”
There is something fierce and proud in Sha’re’s voice that lodges like a point of fire in Sam’s stomach, ripping open a depth of yearning she hadn’t even known was there.
“Sometimes trying isn’t enough,” Sam repeats, thinking of all the people who didn’t make it to see this hazy optimistic future they’ve all been aiming for. The names and faces and could have beens that are almost too much grief for a single body to hold.
Sha’re nods, perhaps thinking of her own loses. “But sometimes,” she says, looking up at the sky above them with a small half-smile, “sometimes it is.”
“Yes,” Sam agrees, finally letting herself actually feel the awe of their victory and not just the inconvenience of fame. “Yes, it is.”
They’d actually won, weaknesses and all.
Out of the corner of her eye, Sam catches sight of Alma’s neglected, half-forgotten sign. Rolling to her feet, she crosses over to it, lifting it up off the ground. “We could use some stones to prop it back up,” she says, wiping the leaves from the lone faded name.
This time when Sha’re smiles, Sam is pretty certain it’s genuine.
It only takes fifteen minutes to gather up enough stones to do a proper job, but it’s during this search that Sam stumbles upon a second path leading to Alma’s Peak. She fights off laughter at the sight of clear, level switchbacks climbing up a gradual incline. When Sha’re comes to investigate, Sam simply points in explanation.
Sha’re sighs, canting her head to one side, no doubt also thinking about their strenuous and ultimately unnecessary scrabble up the other side.
“Perhaps today was simply not the day for easy,” she observes.
Sam smiles, nodding in agreement. “Plus, something tells me Alma wouldn’t have taken the easy route either.”
* * *
They lapse back into silence on the return trip, but it doesn’t bother Sam the way it had on the way out. She walks by Sha’re’s side and watches the forest around them, trying to find any last bit of wonder.
When they finally near the house, the scent of BBQ reaches them, the men’s voices carrying through the trees. Sam’s steps slow, Sha’re matching her dwindling pace without comment.
In sight of the house, Sam comes to a complete stop, sliding her hands into her pockets.
“I think maybe it isn’t the fame that really bothers me,” Sam decides.
“What then?” Sha’re asks, stopping next to her.
Sam can go up there and join her friends on the deck, but she’s still stuck with the feeling that SG-1 and their years together are much like Sha’re’s beloved desert: part of the past that can never really be recaptured.
“I’m not ready to let them go,” Sam confesses, her fingers clenching around the slip of paper in her pocket.
Sha’re nods, her hand coming to rest on Sam’s arm. It’s comforting in a way nothing has been in months. They stand together that way for a while, watching Daniel, Jack and Teal’c from a distance.
“They used to tease him for helping me with meals,” Sha’re says unexpectedly.
“Daniel?” Sam asks.
Sha’re nods. “Yes, they believed it made him weak.”
Sam smiles, feeling a beat of affection for Daniel. As much as he is supposedly the people expert, he often has blind spots the size of a small moon. “And what did you think?”
“I assumed he hated my cooking,” Sha’re says with a low laugh, smiling fondly at the memory. “But by the end of our first year, almost all the young men were helping.”
In the distance, the men have finally noticed them, one of them raising an arm high in the air in greeting.
“Change is not the same as loss,” Sha’re says softly, her hands slipping from Sam’s arm as she returns the greeting.
Maybe not, Sam thinks. But that doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes feel an awful lot alike.
In her pocket, the note crinkles quietly between her fingers. Pulling it out, she smoothes the paper flat between her palms.
Daniel and I are trying to throw together that white water rafting trip thing Teal’c is so set on. You in or what? Give us a call!
Sha’re regards Sam over the top of the note, sending her a look that is so reminiscent of the one she once used on Daniel that Sam has no problem interpreting it. Is this really the way you want to deal with this?
Folding the note carefully, she slips it back in her pocket. Maybe things are changing, but that doesn’t have to mean the end of everything. She will hold onto her team as long as she can, celebrate this nebulous goal they’ve worked towards for so long, and when the time comes, she’ll figure out what to do next.
Smiling at Sha’re, Sam hooks her arm through hers, pulling her towards the house.
“Have you ever heard of white water rafting, Sha’re?”