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Fanfiction: Surreally Normal

Fandom: Stargate SG1
Series: Aftershocks
TAG to Episode: S7 Enemy Mine
Rating: PG-13
Author's Note: Daniel/Teal'c friendship. Sam/Jack UST. 
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Written for entertainment purposes only.

 

Surreally Normal

His life was completely surreal.

There was a hint of panic fizzing through Evan Lorne's veins that he ruthlessly ignored as he took his place beside his CO for the report back to the SGC. He knew the only reason why Colonel Edwards had dragged him up to the MALP was because Daniel Jackson and Teal'c were right beside them and Edwards had wanted to have the same number of SG11 present. Lorne would have been more amused at the pissing contest if it hadn't meant he had ended up right where he was: stood in front of a camera and staring into a monitor where the faces of two Generals stared back at him. It was more attention than he had ever wanted to elicit.

It was surreal.

As it turned out, Edwards also lost the contest because Lorne could also see the SG1 leader, Colonel O'Neill, with his injured arm in a sling, stood right next to General Hammond with the final SG1 member, Major Samantha Carter, sat in a chair in front of General Vidrine.

Edwards flicked an irritated glance toward Lorne which could have meant anything from "get the rest of the men I lead up here now so I win this" to "we shall never speak of my losing." Lorne had only been serving with the man for a month and couldn't decipher it so he opted for the latter and hoped for the best. Edwards turned his attention fully back to the monitor.

Lorne let out a small soundless sigh and settled into an 'at ease' position. He smoothed his expression into something simulating what he hoped was polite attention while Edwards competed with Jackson over who was saying what as the report began.

His legs and back ached and Lorne ignored the discomfort. They'd been sat on the ground an incredibly long and uncomfortable time while Jackson had negotiated with the Unas leader, and the rest of them had pretended that they weren't surrounded by a tribe of the creatures and about to be torn to pieces. The memory of Ritter's corpse flashed in his mind for a moment and Lorne pushed it back out before it would show on his face.

It was over.

Jackson had worked out some deal; the Unas were pacified and apparently keen and eager to mine the naquadah for Earth to help in the fight against the Goa'uld.

Jackson, Lorne decided, deserved his reputation.

Actually, from what Lorne could tell in the very short time he'd been assigned to the Stargate programme, all of SG1 deserved their reputation. But what Lorne had also observed was that SG1 being super-heroes didn't make it easy for anyone else. It saved their asses, saved Earth unquestionably, but it was hard. How exactly could someone compete with a man who'd come back from the dead, a woman who'd blown up a sun, a Jaffa who had lived twice as long as any of them, and a team leader who had an advanced alien race name a spaceship after him? Lorne believed they deserved the accolades but he worried about the hero worship or the annoyance he could see in others that their success fostered; neither was good.

'See: that's why I recommended you for this gig. I knew you'd get it. SG1 are human. They can break, make mistakes and have a mission go to crap on them just as much as the rest of us.' His former CO, Dave Dixon, had said when Lorne had confided his observation.

Unassigned to a SG team, Lorne had gone out with Dave's team for his first off-world mission beyond the training he'd received at the Alpha site. They'd sat around the camp-fire when the rest of Dave's men had either hit the sack or gone to check the perimeter.

'Not many people get that. Not the ones who put them up on a pedestal and not the ones who mock them and say anyone could do what they do.' Dave had finished.

'Isn't Teal'c technically not human?' Lorne had gotten a punched arm for that one.

'What I'm sayin' is...' Dave had replied. 'The ones who rely on them to save their asses are stupid, don't get me wrong; off-world ain't safe and you need to protect your own rear. But the ones that think SG1 just can't be that good and resent them because they just are, can make a bad situation worse before you can say FUBAR.'

Dave had been right, Lorne considered as Jackson's hands waved in the air as he explained the deal.

Edwards had initially appreciated SG1 being sent to do the SAR for Ritter but he'd resented the hell out of O'Neill using protocol to get them evacuated the first time the Unas attacked and resented Daniel Jackson's attempts to negotiate a truce when they'd gotten back to the planet. It had almost gotten them all killed.

Lorne knew he and Edwards were still getting to know each other and hadn't reached the stage where they could read one another. Edwards wasn't a bad guy; he was tough, demanding and knew how he wanted things done. He knew vast amounts about engineering, mining and naquadah. He also took his responsibility seriously. Lorne knew half of Edwards's anger at the Unas was rooted in Edwards's own guilt at Ritter's death. Ritter and Edwards had served together for over a year and, from what Lorne could make out, had somehow incongruously bonded over a shared love of geology and spelunking of all things. And to be fair to his CO, Lorne mused silently, he'd been angry and guilty about losing Ritter himself. He'd quite happily wanted revenge on the Unas for killing one of their own so brutally; for attacking them. Perhaps he'd also gotten carried away and hadn't stood back to make an objective decision, and provide his CO with constructive support.

He repressed the urge to sigh. It was a fine line being second in command. There was a push and pull involved in knowing when and how to question a CO on an order and when to follow without question. Lorne felt another rush of his own self-recrimination at Ritter's death and stifled it: it wasn't the time or the place to dig over the coals.

'Well done on a successful outcome, Colonel.' Vidrine's statement snapped Lorne's attention back to the report.

'Thank you, sir.' Edwards replied.

Lorne's eyes shot to his CO; Edwards wouldn't take credit, would he? Sure, Edwards ostensibly had the command of the mission but they owed their lives and the agreement to Jackson. Maybe, Lorne considered grimly, it was time to step up and start acting like he was Edwards's second and not just there for a training run. Lorne shifted subtly, nudging into Edwards's periphery; a warning, a reminder...he wasn't sure which.

'But I think we owe Doctor Jackson for this one.' Edwards allowed, after what seemed like forever, but was probably only a second.

Lorne's stomach unclenched. He felt the weight of someone's regard and glanced over only to find Teal'c watching him with something akin to approval.

'And Chaka.' Jackson added, sharing the credit with his Unas friend. 'I'm not sure we would have been able to make as much headway as we did without his help.'

Vidrine's smile looked all the more frozen and plastic at that but he nodded. 'Please tell him we appreciate his assistance.'

O'Neill wasn't bothering to hide his amusement at Vidrine's attempt to hide his evident discomfort at being beholden to an Unas.

'I'm going to need to stay on here for a while.' Jackson announced.

Edwards's head whipped around so fast that Lorne was sure his CO would have whiplash.

'Why?' O'Neill bluntly asked the question before anyone else could.

'Jack.'

'Daniel.'

'I need to teach Colonel Edwards and his team to talk to the Unas.' Jackson responded. 'They're going to have to be able to communicate with each other if this is going to work.'

And we all don't end up killing each other again, Lorne finished in his head. It made sense.

Edwards was pissed at the idea. Lorne really didn't need to have worked with him that long to see that. He knew the Colonel was grateful Jackson had got them out of being killed and had worked out a hugely advantageous agreement, but Lorne would bet his entire life savings that his CO had been counting down the minutes to Jackson returning to the SGC where he'd go back to being O'Neill's pain in the ass and not his.

Lorne quietly shifted his weight, drawing Edwards's attention again. His CO glowered at him but apparently got the wordless hint; Lorne would handle the liaison work.

'Fine with me. Lorne's good with linguistics.' Edwards said out loud.

Jackson frowned.

Lorne figured the archaeologist was remembering the table of artefacts that Lorne had removed from the mine. It had been on Edwards's order but Jackson didn't know that and Lorne wasn't going to tell him. Taking a hit now and again for a CO was also part of the job, so long as they didn't take advantage of it. And in truth Lorne hadn't exactly questioned the order.

'I'm sure that could be arranged.' On the monitor, Vidrine was looking at Hammond expectantly.

'How long are you thinking, Doctor Jackson?' Hammond asked briskly.

'A few days...maybe a week?' Jackson wrinkled his nose and shrugged.

Lorne watched the screen as Hammond nodded.

'SG1 are on stand down while Colonel O'Neill's arm heals so I see no reason why not.' Hammond confirmed. His pale blue eyes looked at the SG1 leader to see if he had one.

O'Neill shifted and Lorne watched as his eyes looked through the camera directly at Jackson. A short conversation seemed to take place without any words littering the airwaves.

'You really need to stay?'

'Yes. This is important.' Jackson moved; a quick dance of impatience that gave away that there more arguments hovering on his tongue if he needed them.

O'Neill's eyes moved to Teal'c expectantly, an unspoken question travelling light years through the wormhole.

'I will remain with Daniel Jackson.' Teal'c confirmed.

O'Neill nodded but his gaze had already slipped to Carter.

Lorne watched fascinated as another silent conversation took place in the space of a heartbeat.

'You OK with this, Carter?'

'Doesn't look like we get a choice, sir.'

The whole thing lasted mere seconds and was as terrifying as it was awe-inspiring. It wasn't telepathy even if it looked like it, Lorne reminded himself. SG1 had worked together a long time; five years plus was bound to have resulted in the ability to understand a team-mate that well. Heck, he'd had something akin to it with Dave back in Afghanistan when they had served together.

O'Neill gestured his good hand toward them. 'Remember I expect them back in their original packaging, Edwards.'

Edwards smiled tightly but Lorne knew the message had been received and understood. Jackson and Teal'c were O'Neill's and he was expecting them, probably more Jackson than Teal'c, to be returned to him without so much as a hair out of a place.

Hammond cleared his throat. 'Colonel Edwards, the memorial has been scheduled for the day after tomorrow. If you or any of your men would like to attend, we'll arrange appropriate cover. Let me know at the next check-in.'

'Understood, sir.' Edwards replied.

Hammond glanced at Vidrine as though to check he was done and Vidrine nodded.

'Good job, gentlemen.' Hammond said firmly. 'SGC, out.'

Lorne had enough time to see O'Neill give a small wave before the monitor went blank.

Jackson immediately turned to Edwards. 'Lorne can't do all the liaison work. The Unas leader will expect to meet with his equal.'

'I'll meet with him.' Edwards agreed tersely. 'But Lorne will be the one doing the talking.'

There was a flash of anger and disbelief through Jackson's blue eyes. 'Look...'

Lorne cleared his throat. 'It's late.' He declared baldly. 'Perhaps we could delay this discussion until tomorrow? Doctor Jackson, are the Unas going to be OK if we get set up for the night and post a watch?'

His query stopped Jackson's imminent tirade and Jackson's attention swung to Lorne with an intense focus that made him flush and hope that the others would blame on the sunlight.

'We should assume they've left a watch to make certain we don't renege on our agreement.' Jackson answered, still looking at Lorne with speculation. 'I don't think they'll attack if we make usual preparations.'

'But no patrols outside of the camp?' Edwards asked the question before Lorne could.

'I think that would be prudent.' Jackson nodded.

Edwards sighed and gestured at Lorne. 'Get it set up, Major. I'll be in the command tent dealing with the paperwork.'

'Yes, sir.' Lorne replied automatically. He was grateful to get out from under Jackson's gaze; he'd started to feel a little like a butterfly with its wings pinned.

The organisation of the men, the tents and the equipment kept Lorne busy for a long while. They'd set up a perimeter within the camp boundaries with a five man patrol. There was a tent for sleeping; one for chow; one for equipment set up. It was dark by the time Lorne cast a measuring look around the camp and was satisfied with what he saw.

The meal was almost ready, a strong scent of stewed tomatoes and meat drifting over the smoke from the fire. Lorne could feel the stirrings of hunger in his belly. He ordered Menard to see if the Colonel wanted a plate in his tent; Lorne just had the equipment tent to check and then he'd grab some food for himself.

He ducked under the canvas and came to a slow halt at the sight of Teal'c carefully placing a shovel into position. The Jaffa had offered his assistance and Lorne had set him to work; he'd forgotten about it in the rush of organising and trying to be five different places at once. Jackson, if he remembered correctly, had gone off with Chaka to inform the Unas leader that they would reconvene in the morning.

'Hey, thanks.' Lorne said sincerely.

Teal'c bowed his head.

For a moment, Lorne wondered why Teal'c hadn't gone with Jackson but he let the thought drift away and rubbed the back of his neck as he recalled he'd wanted to ask Teal'c to take a watch. 'First watch OK with you?'

Teal'c straightened and clasped his hands behind his back. 'May I inquire as to which watch is Daniel Jackson assigned to?'

Lorne hadn't intended asking Jackson. He was a civilian and he was important to the Unas negotiations; they needed him bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. He caught Teal'c's measuring gaze and determined that his original plan would not be taken well. Mentally, he shuffled the names around again in his head. 'Uh, first watch with you?'

'That would be acceptable.' Teal'c replied with a hint of a smirk as though he knew what Lorne had intended and why he'd changed his mind.

An abandoned pack at the far end caught Lorne's attention and he went to pick it up, almost dropping it again when he realised it was Ritter's. His fingers clenched in the straps.

'This should probably go back to the SGC.' Although someone needed to check it over for SGC property first. Lorne sighed.

'I will make the arrangements.' Teal'c said.

'No,' Lorne shook his head, 'I'll do it.' Ritter had been his team-mate even if they hadn't known each other long; had still been in the early days of finding a friendship and a connection through the mesh of command structures and personality.

Teal'c inclined his head in understanding.

'There's food if you want some chow.' Lorne said, thrusting a thumb back at the tent entrance. He really didn't want an audience while he went through the pack. He gazed at it with trepidation.

'Would you care to join me for dinner, Major Lorne?'

Lorne's head jerked up in surprise. He registered Teal'c's sincerity and felt a knot of tension in his gut loosen a little. Evidently Teal'c didn't think any less of Lorne for throwing up like a new cadet when they'd found Ritter. 'Uh, I should...' he raised the pack, 'and then I have to check with the Colonel so...later?'

Teal'c gave a small bow and left.

There was an empty table at the back of the tent and Lorne went over to it. He set the pack on top and looked at it. His hunger had faded away abruptly like someone had flipped a switch. He pressed his lips together. It wouldn't be the first time he'd had to look through a pack left behind or the locker of a team-mate who would never return. He emptied out the contents.

He sorted through the standard property first setting aside anything that could be returned to stores which mostly consisted of tools and a first aid kit that Lorne had never seen Ritter without since he was SG11's official field medic. The rest was an array of Ritter's personal belongings; a photo of Ritter and a sweet looking girl called Pam (Ritter's girlfriend), another photo of Ritter and an older couple at his Academy graduation, a pack of cards, a Swiss army knife that had Ritter's initial's carved on the metal, an Asimov book, a linen handkerchief and a journal.

It wasn't a lot. Not much more than he had in his own pack.

'It's interesting, isn't it?'

Lorne's hand went to his sidearm as he spun around and he just managed to stop himself from drawing the weapon on Jackson.

'Sorry!' Jackson held up both hands in apologetic supplication. 'I didn't mean to startle you.'

'It's OK.' He should have been paying more attention to his surroundings, Lorne berated himself. He turned back to the table. 'If you're looking for Teal'c, he went for dinner.'

'I'm not.' Jackson said shortly.

Lorne glanced at him.

'Looking for Teal'c.' Jackson explained with a hint of a smile. 'I was, uh, looking for the artefacts?'

Lorne pointed at one of the packing cases. 'We packed them according to protocol ready for shipping back to the SGC.'

'Oh.' Jackson blinked at him from behind his glasses.

And clearly that had been the wrong thing to do, Lorne thought, his heart sinking. 'I didn't realise you would still want to look at them, Doctor Jackson.'

'I don't, not really, I just...' Jackson sighed as he stumbled to a halt. He gave an embarrassed shrug. 'I was just looking for something to take my mind off today.'

Lorne stared at him. 'You did great.'

'We almost died because I didn't realise the numbers of Unas we were dealing with sooner.' Jackson corrected.

'Maybe if we'd sent for you like we should have done, you would have realised it sooner.' Lorne almost bit his lip as Jackson blinked at him again before his gaze narrowed.

It was the same assessing gaze that Jackson had subjected him to when he'd interrupted the discussion after the SGC report.

Jackson folded his arms over his chest. 'You know it wasn't your fault.'

It was; they should have called Jackson in the moment they found the artefacts. They could have found out there were Unas on the planet before Ritter got killed; before it descended into bloodshed and war.

'I'm not sure I'll ever believe that.' Lorne admitted.

'Major,' Jackson took a step closer into his personal space. 'I get three or four notifications a day from the field teams. Even if I'd recognised the artefact's descriptions, understood the relevance of finding a yoke here, and come out to take a look sooner...' he tapped his fingers on the table, 'I'm really not sure it would have made a difference.' His eyes caught on the belongings spread out on the table. 'Are these Lieutenant Ritter's?'

'Yes.' Lorne waved a hand at the collection. 'I was just going to pack it up.'

The archaeologist leaned over. 'It's amazing how many things you can see from someone's belongings.'

Lorne raised an eyebrow. 'Really?'

Jackson picked up the photo of Ritter and his parents. 'This tells me Ritter had a close relationship with his parents; that they probably told him that they were proud of him that day because it has special meaning to him.' He picked up the Swiss army knife. 'That he was practical; this is used but it had meaning for him; it was a gift from someone who knew him well.'

'His girlfriend.' Lorne corroborated.

Jackson pointed at the second photo questioningly and Lorne nodded.

'I guess I never really understood just how much you guys can tell from what gets left behind.'

'Well, normally, we're working with fragments and oddities rather than whole pictures and objects.' Jackson explained, wrinkling his nose.

'Kind of like a giant jigsaw puzzle.' Lorne commented.

'Something like that but without, you know, a picture of what it looked like in the beginning.' Jackson agreed. He stepped back from the table and gestured awkwardly. 'I should leave you to it.'

'Thanks, Doctor Jackson.' Lorne said absently.

'No problem.' Jackson smiled briefly. He wandered out before Lorne could think to say anything else. He sighed and began to quietly pack up Ritter's belongings, storing them in a small box and labelling it clearly.

It was time to report to Edwards and then finally he might be able to get something to eat. He made his way to the command tent. Edwards sat behind a table piled high with paperwork. There was an empty tin beside him with smears of red all that remained of the tomato based stew. Edwards had a tin mug of coffee in one hand.

'Lorne.' Edwards raised the mug and pierced him with a serious look. 'See you took the training wheels off.'

'Yes, sir.' Lorne agreed dryly. He had been sitting back since his training; watching too much rather than taking the initiative and it felt good to change that despite the circumstances.

'Good work getting things organised.' Edwards allowed gruffly. 'You had chow yet?'

'Just about to hit the chow tent now, sir.' Lorne said. 'Unless you need anything else?'

Edwards set his mug down and looked over at Lorne. 'I think one of us should stay here the day of Ritter's memorial.'

It wasn't an order but Lorne nodded. 'I'll stay, sir.'

Edwards got to his feet. He wandered over to where they'd pinned a poster-sized picture of the immediate area taken by a UAV. 'You still volunteering for liaison duties?'

'Yes, sir.' Lorne answered. 'But I think Doctor Jackson's right.'

'That the leader will want to talk with me?' Edwards sighed. 'I guess we'll have to work something out.'

'It may help to remember that he's on our side, sir.'

'Which one? The Unas or Jackson?' Edwards quipped.

Lorne's lips twitched.

Edwards let out a heartfelt sigh. 'You know, I've been in the programme almost two years and this is the first time I've had SG1 step into one of my operations. They're a damned pain in the ass.'

'But worth it, sir.' Lorne said, repeating Edwards's own words back to him.

'But worth it.' Edwards agreed as he sat back down with a huff. He picked up his coffee cup. 'Go get some chow, Lorne.'

'Sir.' Lorne picked up the empty tin and headed out of the tent and across the camp. He handed in the empty and was rewarded with a full dish and his own mug of coffee. He wandered over to the fire. The Marines not on patrol were spaced out on one side along with Menard and a couple of the other scientists they had brought back with them to run the equipment. Teal'c, Jackson, and Chaka sat on the opposite side.

Lorne could see the suspicious looks the Marines kept shooting the Unas, and the mix of awe and reproach that they were aiming at Jackson. He headed for the empty crate next to Teal'c and sat down.

Teal'c inclined his head in welcome and Jackson gave him a pleased look. 'Chaka, this is...'

'Evan.' Lorne supplied quickly.

'Evan.' Jackson asserted. 'Evan, Chaka.'

Lorne exchanged an awkward bow of heads with the Unas. His stomach rumbled hungrily again and he dived into his food with an apologetic smile.

'So how long have you been in the programme?' Jackson asked. 'I don't remember you from before I, uh...left before.'

'I've only been in a couple of months including training.' Lorne said, scraping up another spoonful of tough meat and tangy tomato.

'And where were you before?' asked Jackson.

'Afghanistan.' Lorne said easily. 'Pilot.'

'I'm surprised you didn't head for the 302 programme.' Jackson murmured as he lifted a mug of coffee to his lips.

'Colonel Dixon talked me into trying a SG team.' Lorne smiled. 'Wormhole travel is a lot like flying just without the protective armour of a plane.'

'Indeed.' Teal'c agreed.

'You know I forget sometimes we're fighting a war back on our own planet when I'm out here.' Jackson sighed.

'It's weird.' Lorne admitted, setting aside his empty tin and picking up his mug. 'I have buddies still deployed overseas so...weird.' he shrugged. He didn't fool himself into thinking he had an easy option in the Stargate programme - he had effectively exchanged one war for another, but sitting on another planet, his time in Afghanistan seemed almost like another life.

He'd been glad to leave. The base had never been the same after the debacle with Milligan refusing to send anyone for Millis, Keane and Frollo when they had gone down, only for a helicopter pilot to take off for them anyway. It had been a mess in the end. Rumour had it that Milligan had charged the pilot, a Major Sheppard, with everything he could think of since it wasn't Sheppard's first time disobeying orders to perform a rescue mission, and Sheppard had been shipped Stateside for court-martial. Milligan had been transferred back himself a week later after the brass apparently had gotten a clue that nobody trusted the Colonel any longer to send a rescue mission after them. Maybe that had been enough to save Sheppard; that, and Millis being a Senator's son. Lorne had no idea what had happened to the pilot and he hadn't exactly been close to the Major to stay in touch. Their paths hadn't really crossed all that often given their different aircraft and the different ranks. Lorne had only gotten his promotion to Major on the same day he'd been offered the transfer to the SGC.

'So you're good with linguistics?' Jackson asked dryly, interrupting Lorne's rambling thoughts.

'Spanish, mainly. My Mom liked Mexico.' Lorne shrugged. 'I'll manage.'

He felt a lingering sense of hunger and shifted to pull a power bar from his jacket pocket.

Chaka's head swivelled to him and there was an intense look of anticipation in the Unas's eyes.

'Uh...' Lorne stopped; half-way through unwrapping the bar.

'Chaka and I, um, kind of, well, bonded over those.' Jackson explained with an embarrassed smile. 'They're his favourite.'

Lorne looked down at the power bar and looked back at Chaka. His lips twisted regretfully but he stretched out his hand toward Chaka, presenting him with the power bar. 'Here.'

Chaka regarded him with a surprised look.

'It's OK.' Lorne said. Just please don't tear my arm off, he thought worriedly.

Chaka reached for the food and took it with another bow. 'Than' yo, Eeevan.' He immediately began to tuck into his present.

Lorne shuffled back and realised Jackson was exchanging a silent look of amusement with Teal'c. Lorne cleared his throat. 'So I'm thinking there's a story about how you and Chaka met?'

He settled back as Jackson began the tale.

His life truly was surreal, Lorne thought absently; he couldn't quite believe he was on another planet, sitting around a campfire with two living legends and an Unas.

Surreal.

He wouldn't have it any other way.

o-O-o

The wormhole winked out.

Sam took a deep breath and kept her eyes focused on the computer monitor as she brought up the new diagnostic screen. She tapped in another series of commands aware of the low bass of one General and the quiet drawl of another drifting away toward the stairs. The system was working perfectly as it had that morning when they'd finished final testing and sign-off. Everything was depressingly normal. She shook the feeling of dissatisfaction away. The project was a success; she should be celebrating not wishing she was light years away eating bad food on a planet infested with Unas.

She could feel the Colonel hovering just behind her and knew she had another five seconds before he said something.

'So, Carter, when you're finished playing with your science project...'

Sam didn't bother to hide the eye-roll from him since the Generals had left.

'Hammond wants to see us in five.' Jack informed her briskly and she understood it was a message to wrap up what she was doing. He took a step around her chair and slumped into the empty one next to it. His eyes strayed to the Stargate; a gleam of worry in the dark depths that she doubted anyone else could see. If she felt bad about being at the SGC, she knew it was twice as bad for the Colonel, for Jack. He hated having his team-mates somewhere without him at the best of times.

'They'll be fine.' Even though we're not there to watch their six. The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them. She winced but didn't say anything else.

Jack didn't look at her but his long, drawn-out sigh was enough of an admission that he knew exactly what she had meant. 'Yeah.'

Sam finished up her diagnostic check. She nodded across the room at Sergeant Harriman who stepped up to slide into her chair as soon as she was on her feet.

Jack got out of his chair slowly and she held back a sympathetic grimace at seeing the pain flicker across his face, the way he instinctively went to cradle the arm that was in the sling regardless that he'd been pretending he was fine. His upper arm was a mess of torn skin and flesh.

They made their way up the steel stairs to Hammond's office.

'So the diagnostic system...?' Jack asked.

'Up and running.' Sam replied easily. It had been a tough few days getting everything done but the new system was so much better than the new one. They'd been able to make quite a few changes to increase the operational efficiency and installed new tools to help diagnose issues such as someone getting their pattern caught in the buffer. It was worth it even if it had grounded her more than once in the past couple of months.

'Good.' Jack grinned at her and Sam smiled back, warmed at the pride she could read in his eyes.

They paused at the top of the staircase and checked to ensure Vidrine had gone before they covered the final steps and rapped on Hammond's open door.

The General waved them inside with the folder he held. 'Excellent work with the diagnostic system, Major.'

'Sir.' Sam nodded briskly, recognising the folder; it was her report from that morning's project debriefing.

Hammond dropped the folder to his desk and looked over at Jack. 'I had an interesting meeting with Doctor Fraiser just before our check-in with Colonel Edwards.'

Sam sneaked a look at the Colonel. His face had smoothed into a mask of innocence.

'She informed me that it was her understanding that Doctor Brightman had released you from the infirmary on the provision that you went home to rest your arm.' Hammond continued. His pale blue gaze stared down the Colonel very effectively, and not for the first time, Sam wondered if Hammond could teach her that trick.

'Uh, she may have mentioned something to that effect.' Jack mumbled. 'Sir.'

Hammond harrumphed. His gaze snapped to Sam. 'Doctor Fraiser also pointed out to me that with the diagnostic project you've now spent three nights on base, Major, and most of those without sleep.'

She didn't even try to deny it because it was the truth. There had been deadlines on the diagnostic system; too many teams off-world for her to have permission to take the Stargate offline as she had originally requested. She and the project team had ended up working around the clock, fitting in with the comings and goings of the SG teams.

'I'm fine, sir.' Sam said.

'She's fine, I'm fine, we're both,' Jack waved his good hand in the air, 'fine, sir.'

'As I've just had to endure ten minutes of Doctor Fraiser listing all the reasons why you're not fine, Colonel, I would give it up now.' Hammond's eyes twinkled suddenly. 'Or I can get her in here to explain it to you herself.'

'That won't be necessary, sir.' Jack said hurriedly.

'Go home, people.' Hammond said firmly as he sat down with a thump in his sturdy leather chair. 'I don't want to see either of you before oh-nine-hundred tomorrow.'

'Yes, sir.' They chorused before they beat a hasty retreat to the elevator.

Sam pointed at the sling as Jack hit the elevator button. 'Do you need a ride home, sir?'

He raised one scarred eyebrow in surprise at her offer and she fought the blush that she knew was struggling to bloom on her cheeks. Friends asked other friends if they needed a ride, Sam told herself firmly.

'You can't drive your truck.' She pointed out, aiming for a casual tone.

'I get to ride on the bike?' He looked so earnestly hopeful that she smiled.

'No, sir,' Sam watched as his face fell in disappointment, 'you couldn't grip onto me properly.' And she wasn't going to risk him or her bike having an accident.

'Damn.' Jack rocked back on his heels as he accepted her point. 'Another time then.'

His assumption that there would be another time filled her inexplicably with happiness. Don't do this to yourself, Sam thought determinedly, trying to keep focused on her original offer.

'I was thinking I could drive your truck.' Sam said out loud as they stepped into the elevator.

'Stow the bike on the back?' Jack nodded. 'Sounds like a plan.'

'Meet you up top in fifteen?' Sam suggested.

'Make it thirty.' Jack pointed at the sling as an explanation.

They separated as the elevator halted and they made their way to their respective locker rooms.

Sam changed into her civilian wear; leather pants, t-shirt and leather jacket. She was pleased that Jack had agreed without any fuss. It was either a sign of how much his arm was hurting or maybe they'd finally worked the whole friendship thing out.

She ignored the twinge of disappointment she felt. It was good that she and Jack were friends. If she wanted more sometimes that was her problem. Her problem that she was still madly, deeply, head over heels in love with him...

Sam sighed and slammed the locker door shut. She made one phone call from the corridor phone before she headed out of the mountain. Ten minutes later, the Colonel found her and Siler tying down her bike in the back of the Colonel's truck.

Jack had exchanged his BDU for jeans, a sweatshirt and a leather jacket. He looked grumpy, tired and in pain.

'Ready?' He asked.

Sam nodded and jumped down, gesturing for Siler to follow.

Siler looked back up at the bike, darted a nervous look at Jack and looked at the bike again. 'Perhaps we should use another chain, ma'am.'

Sam bit back a smile. Siler had helped her restore the bike and he was very protective of it.

Jack sighed heavily. 'Siler, it's secure enough and Carter's driving.'

Siler looked enormously relieved as he realised the plan and Sam turned her laugh hurriedly into a cough.

Jack glowered at her.

'Thank you for your help, Sergeant.' Sam said firmly and Siler headed back into the mountain. She turned back to her CO and held her hand out. 'Keys, sir.'

He held them out over her open palm. 'I am trusting you to drive my truck, Carter.' Jack said solemnly. 'Do not speed.' The keys landed in her grasp as he let go.

Sam's lips twitched. 'Don't worry, sir, I'll take it easy,' she said lightly, pausing for a moment. 'After all, I wouldn't want to damage the bike.'

'Funny.' Jack said, but he was smiling at her, his dimples showing, as he gestured for her to get in.

She climbed into the driver's side of the cab and waited until he had made himself comfortable in the passenger seat. The truck drove like a dream and Sam spent the first ten minutes happily enjoying the horsepower, the low rumble of the engine and the various gadgets built into the dash. She glanced across at Jack to see him looking back at her with indulgent fondness.

The blush was fast and unavoidable. 'Sorry, sir.'

'That's OK, Carter.' Jack patted the dashboard. 'They're all just...doohickeys to you, aren't they?'

It was a simple, straightforward statement of knowing who she was and Sam flashed him a smile. It was nice to have one person in the world who knew her that well.

He settled back and another grimace tightened his mouth for a moment.

His arm, she surmised. 'If you want to rest up, Colonel, go ahead. The truck and I will be fine.'

'You have food in your house, Carter?'

The query prompted her to glance at him again, surprised. His eyes were closed so she couldn't get a read on why he'd asked. She frowned when she realised he was hugging his injured arm close to his side. How was he going to cook with his arm? Well, he probably wouldn't cook; he'd get take-out which is what she intended to do since the answer to his question was that she had no food and so...

And so that was the reason why he'd asked. No point them getting separate take-out...she hoped.

'No, sir.' Sam answered.

'Pizza?' Jack asked without opening his eyes.

'Sounds like a plan.' She said lightly, batting his earlier words to her back at him.

He smirked as he got the reference.

They pulled up in front of his house with little fanfare and Sam sighed as she took the key out of the ignition. The truck was a dream to drive.

'Do you and the truck need a moment?' Jack teased.

She threw him a mock glare and they made their way out of the truck. Jack led the way into his house and made straight for the kitchen and the phone there.

'Usual?' he called as he hit the speed-dial.

'Yeah, that's fine.' Sam said as she shrugged off the jacket and placed it on a hook by the door. She felt the ache across her shoulders from too many hours spent in front of the computer; the stirrings of fatigue in a ripple of fog across her mind. She sat down on the sofa and leaned back, closing her eyes.

'Here.'

She felt the nudge of a bottle against her arm and she opened her eyes to take the beer. She refrained from asking if it was a good idea for either of them. One beer wouldn't hurt her and if it made her too sleepy, she'd take a cab. She knew better than to argue Jack shouldn't drink with his pain medication.

Jack had managed to get out of his own jacket but to keep the sling in place. He sat down beside her and switched the TV on, flicking through the channels until he hit a Simpsons rerun. He threw the remote on the coffee table, stretched out his legs and wriggled into the cushions to get more comfortable before he took a sip of his beer.

Sam took a long swallow and set the beer on the coffee table. She toed off her boots and tucked her legs under her. Her eyes strayed to the TV screen where Bart was talking with the Principal. She glanced at Jack. He looked worn but she could see a lot of the tension he'd carried at the base was gone.

Sam settled her gaze back on the TV screen again and let the cartoon wash over her. It was nice, Sam mused idly; nice, coming home with Jack - someone, kicking back, watching television mindlessly while they waited for pizza.

It was...surreal.

She reached for her beer to drown out the ache in her chest. She wasn't sure when normality had turned into something surreal. Normal wasn't something that she had a lot of experience with. Maybe when her mother had been alive and they'd been a family. She had memories of normal then; of family dinners, of sibling fights, of the way her Dad's eyes would light up whenever he saw her Mom.

She swallowed another sip of beer.

Jack probably had more experience of normal than she had, she mused. She didn't need to turn around to see the picture of his ex-wife and their late son on the inner window through to the dining room. She had a vague memory of seeing it in his bedroom when they'd had to deal with the clone situation. It probably didn't mean anything that it had migrated out to the living space. And seriously; she shouldn't - couldn't - let it bother her; she had no rights to Jack - she wasn't his girlfriend giving him a ride home after a hard day at the office; she was a Major giving her CO a ride home after he'd been injured on another world by something that wasn't human. And he wasn't a lover taking care of her; he was her CO ensuring she rested and had food before she crashed after days of work on an alien device.

Weirdly, Sam knew deep down that she would never have normal with Jack O'Neill. However the evening might seem like normality on the surface, it was an illusion. A surreal illusion.

The ache appeared again; sharper than before.

The doorbell rang stridently, breaking into her thoughts.

'They're early.' Jack staggered off the sofa and headed to the door.

Sam shook herself, shifting into a sitting position and rubbing her hands through her hair and over her face. She needed to get a grip, Sam considered tiredly.

Jack placed the box down in front of her and flipped the lid. It was half and half; his side was covered with meat, no vegetables except slices of tiny jalapeño peppers that he knew she wouldn't mind if one ended up on her side. She picked up a slice of mushroom pizza, snagged a napkin from the stack Jack plunked down, and devoured it within a few bites. She didn't need to look at Jack to know he was doing the same.

'Crap.' Jack snapped.

Sam was helping him to right the beer and mop at the spill before she even had time to think about it. He'd tried to hold both the beer and the pizza and hadn't quite juggled them with his injured arm. She scanned his pain-filled face and pressed her lips together; partly in annoyance, partly in concern. She took the sodden napkins out to the kitchen and found the pain pills he'd been given set on the counter. She returned with a glass of water. He grumbled under his breath but took the painkillers.

'Look, on the bright side, sir.' Sam said cheerfully. 'At least you'll get out of the heavy lifting when Daniel moves to his new house next week.'

Jack tried to glare at her but he couldn't hold it and sipped his beer instead.

They resumed eating without any other discussion. The Simpsons had segued into a Friends repeat. Sam curled up again; her belly was full, the beer had given her a faint buzz. She felt safe and secure and...Sam closed her eyes, snuggled into the comfy sofa, and the drone of the television lulled her to sleep.

She woke up with a startled breath, the remnants of whatever dream or nightmare she'd been having drifting away into abrupt nothingness. Sam blinked the sleep out of her eyes and took a careful survey of where she was.

The room was mostly in darkness. The television was on, blue and white light flickering through the room as some movie played out in a muted undertone. Sam was on the sofa, but her head was cushioned on Jack's good shoulder, his head resting lightly on top of hers, his breaths stirring the hair on top of her head.

Sam shifted slowly, carefully, until she could see Jack. His face was relaxed; pain-free. He was sleeping. She checked her watch and her eyes widened fractionally at the time. One am. They'd been sleeping for hours.

She froze. She had two options, Sam considered desperately. She could resume her previous position and go back to sleep; she could wake up with Jack in the morning and pretend it was fine for her to fall asleep on her Jack's shoulder. No harm; no foul. That was Option One.

Option Two was that she remembered that Majors in the U.S Air Force did not fall asleep on their CO's shoulders when they didn't have the excuse of an alien prison cell and imminent death; that Jack would be grumpy and in pain if he slept the whole night in that position. And maybe that more than anything was why she sighed heavily and placed a hand on Jack's good arm.

'Sir?'

Brightman had evidently given him the good painkillers because it took forever for him to open his eyes and even then he just looked at her blearily.

'Wha...?'

'Bed, sir.' Sam said firmly as she slipped off the sofa and hoisted him to his feet.

Jack blinked at her as though he didn't quite comprehend what was happening. 'Carter?'

'Don't worry, sir. You've taken some painkillers; that's why you're fuzzy.' Sam reassured him as she led him down the corridor and into his bedroom. She pushed him toward the bed because as a Major in the U.S Air Force, putting her CO to bed and tucking him in was above and beyond the call of duty. She went to get him a glass of water, his painkillers and his cell phone which she used to set an alarm for the next morning. When she got back into the bedroom she found him sprawled, still clothed, on top of the bed covers, his face burrowing into a pillow.

Sam wondered for a moment if she should remind him to get undressed but decided a strategic retreat was in order. She set everything down on the bedside table and inched out. She was almost out of the room when she heard him call her name.

'Sir?'

'Call a cab, Carter.' Jack mumbled. ''s late.'

'Yes, sir.' Sam murmured without any intention of complying. She was rested and wide awake; she could handle her bike. She closed the bedroom door behind her and sighed. She didn't bother to question why both of them had automatically assumed she'd go home rather than stay over in the spare room. Both of them had too much military ingrained into them; too much awareness that her giving him a ride home alone would already have provided enough grist for the rumour mill without them turning up the next morning in his truck with her wearing the same clothes she'd left in. It shouldn't have mattered but it did.

She scribbled a note and left it by the coffee pot to let him know that she would be by to pick him up at oh-eight-hundred.

The cold of the night slapped her in the face as she stepped outside of the house and she hurried through untying the bike and wrestling it down from the bed of the truck. She put on her helmet and revved the engine. A moment later, she sped out of the driveway and onto the roads.

A restlessness shuddered through her as she accelerated; an urge to hit the town boundaries and just keep going; to feel the rush of the speed and the wind. She frowned and eased off the gas. She had made the turnings to her house without thinking. She pulled up in front of her house and made her way inside. It was cold inside after days of disuse. She undressed and went through her bathroom routine as quickly as she could. She barely remembered to set her own alarm before she huddled under her blankets and fell asleep.

The second time she awoke alone in her own bed and she ignored the faint tug of disappointment that Jack's shoulder wasn't beneath her head. A shower chased away the last of her fatigue and she dressed in a simple blouse and denim skirt before heading out to pick up the Colonel in her car. He came out straight away as though he had been waiting for her. He'd changed into khakis and a plain white t-shirt under his leather jacket. He looked good; rested. They talked about Daniel's new house on the drive to the base. SG1 had already agreed to help with the move. A few hours later, they stood in the control room as SG11 dialled back in. The Stargate flushed out in front of them and Walter confirmed SG11's IDC and that they were receiving video telemetry. The monitor flickered to life.

Teal'c and Edwards stood side by side in front of the MALP camera.

'Colonel.' Hammond acknowledged Edwards.

'No change here, sir.' Edwards said crisply. 'We have a small group of Unas lined up to start training on the mining equipment.'

Sam could see that Edwards wasn't happy with that; she wouldn't be either, and a look at her own CO confirmed that he sympathised with Edwards too.

'Where's Daniel?' Jack asked.

Edwards looked at Teal'c.

'Daniel Jackson is currently teaching Major Lorne the Unas language with Chaka.' Teal'c replied.

'There was bonding apparently.' Edwards said derisively. 'With power bars.'

Teal'c's lips curled upwards in a hint of a smile. 'Indeed.'

Jack exchanged a wry look with Sam. 'Sounds like Daniel.' He quipped.

It took only a few moments for the check-in to complete and the wormhole winked out. Sam stared at the Stargate for a long moment, the same restlessness that had plagued her on her ride home earlier that morning, rushing through her veins again.

Jack nudged her arm gently. 'They'll be fine.'

Sam smiled up at him softly recognising the reassurance as the same one she had given him the day before and she didn't correct him on the assumption about what was bothering her.

It was just the diagnostic project, Sam told herself briskly, as they headed out of the control room and parted at the elevator; she to her lab and Jack to some meeting. That's all it was. Too many days of being shut in the mountain and having to watch her team-mates go through the Stargate on a SAR without her; of Jack coming back injured and Daniel left alone with Teal'c on a planet filled with Unas. She was happy; she was. She had everything she had ever wanted in her life; she got to travel to other planets, play with more technology than she knew what to do with it and she had the best friends in the galaxy.

She didn't need anything else.

She didn't need normal.

fin.

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