Howdy folks. Well, this is it - the end. It's bitter sweet to think that after two years of writing and editing, it's finally over. I'm glad it's finished and posted, but at the same time, I feel like I'm saying goodbye to an old friend.
I want to thank those of you who've taken the time to read this piece, and especially those of your who took a moment to leave feedback. It means a lot to know people are reading and enjoying what I worked so hard to produce. Is this the end of my SG-1 writing "career"? I don't know. I want to say yes as the fandom has dwindled sharply over the years, but plot ideas have a weird way of sneaking up on your when you're not looking for them.
Once again, thanks for reading and enjoy the conclusion to "Only Time."
"A dog? A cat? A hamster?"
Standing up from her crouch, Cassie put her hands on her hips and gave Jack such a "get with it" look that it made her mother laugh. Seated on the couch next to Sam, Janet watched with amusement as her daughter tried her hardest to portray an idea to the colonel without using words. They were just starting the third round of Charades when the clues written on the playing cards began to get a little more vague and abstract. So far the scores were close, with Jack and Cassie in the lead, followed by a tie between herself and Sam and Daniel and Teal'c.
"Do I look like a hamster to you?" Cassie asked.
"Hey, hey, no talking," Janet scolded, only to have her daughter turn the annoyed look on her.
The young girl sighed dramatically. "Fine…" She consulted her clue card again before crouching down, tucking her hands into her armpits, and flapping her elbows up and down.
"A chicken? A goose?" Jack was seated comfortably in one of the large recliners Janet had in her den. At the last minute, the doctor had suggested her place for SG-1's team night, complete with homemade pizza. 'It's a celebration of sorts…' she'd said when she approached him with the idea. 'Cassie just got her first math test back – fractions no less – and she got an A on it…' Although he'd been sold at the idea of homemade pizza, Cassie's achievement made it impossible to say no. "A duck?"
Cassie jumped up and nodded vigorously.
"Okay, so it's a duck."
She shook her head.
"It's not a duck?"
She shrugged and held her thumb and index finger close together to indicate something small.
"A little duck? A duckling?"
The young girl nodded again, and then put her palms together and opened them like she was reading a book. Now Jack was stumped. What do ducklings and books have to do with each other? Cassie crossed her arms in front of her and made a grumpy face. "A grumpy duckling? A mean duckling?" That's when the light bulb flickered on in his head. "An Ugly Duckling?" The timer went off – he'd literally called it out in the last second.
"Yes!" Cassie shouted, nearly flying across the living room to hug her uncle. "Yes! Yes! You got it!"
Her hugs jarred his still sore shoulder and ribs, but Jack was too taken by her enthusiasm to let it show. "See, I told you I could get it. I'm just a little slow." Cassie grinned widely up at him and plopped down on the floor by his feet. She'd been thrilled when her mother told her SG-1 was coming over for a pizza party, and even more delighted when Jack had shown up with a cake with "Congrats Cassie!" written across the top.
Sam consulted the score sheet. "All right, who's up next? Daniel? Teal'c?"
"I believe it is my turn to deliver the Charade," Teal'c replied, proceeding over to the TV where the clue cards were stacked.
Over the rim of her coffee mug, Janet stole a glance at the colonel. He seemed to holding up well even with all the excitement and bone jostling hugs from Cassie. Unbeknownst to him, this little gathering was also meant to help cheer him up after the difficulties he'd had while his team was away. Although his mood drastically improved upon their safe return – apparently the planet had shown signs of recent Goa'uld activity, but little of value had been left behind – he'd still remained quiet and more withdrawn than normal. With the help of his teammates, she'd planned this little get together to brighten his spirits and lead in to the surprise she had for him at the end of the evening. Cassie's perfect score on her math test had just added to fun of the event and provided her with a failsafe reason for getting Jack to come.
"I am ready to proceed, Major Carter," Teal'c declared once he had selected his clue card and studied it.
"All right, Teal'c," Sam said as she primed her stopwatch. "You have 90 seconds starting…now."
The Jaffa turned to face his partner and pointed a single large finger at himself.
"Um…umm you? Y-you mean you?" Daniel stammered as he slid to the edge of his seat. He'd never been good at Charades, and it didn't help to be paired with the most literal person in the room.
Teal'c shook his head and pointed at himself again.
"Okay – not you…how about me? Or I? Or I'm?" His friend nodded at this last one. "I'm! So it's I'm – what's next?"
Holding one hand flat, Teal'c made the motion of picking something up and bringing it to his mouth with the other.
"Eating, talking, drinking…"
The Jaffa nodded.
"Drinking? You're drinking? Drinking what? Water? Coffee? Juice? Does it matter…?"
He repeated the drinking gesture and motioned for Daniel to keep guessing.
"Umm…drinking…water, milk, tea…"
Teal'c nodded again.
"Tea! You're drinking tea!"
"Thirty seconds," Sam called, watching as the seconds ticked by.
"Okay – so you're drinking tea – what else?" Daniel watched as his friend brought his thumb and index finger together just as Cassie had done to imply something small. "You're drinking a little cup of tea? Teatime? A spot of tea? A side of tea? I don't…I don't understand…"
"Time!" Sam held up her watch so everyone could hear the alarm.
Daniel slumped back in his chair and frowned. "What was it?" he asked as Teal'c sat down beside him.
"The card read: 'I'm a Little Teapot.'"
Across the room, Jack nearly choked on the mouthful of coffee he'd just taken.
"How was I supposed to guess that from what you were doing?"
"I believe you would have gotten it, Daniel Jackson, had we been given more time."
"But this…" Daniel stood up and repeated the same gestures Teal'c had used. "This isn't 'I'm a Little Teapot.' If you had just done the dance to go with the rhyme, I would have gotten a lot sooner."
"Come on, Daniel, it's just a game," Sam said.
"I was unaware that such a rhyme and dance existed."
"What? You've never heard…? Look – it's like this."
Much to the surprise of everyone in the room, Daniel began to perform 'I'm a Little Teapot' with far more enthusiasm than a man his age should have. The song, the dance; he acted out each verse with the finesse and poise that would make any kindergarten teacher proud. At first the others could only stare, too deeply shocked to really react to their friend's behavior. It was Sam who broke their stunned silence, her muffled giggles escaping from behind the hand she had pressed over her mouth. Janet joined in next, followed by Jack and Cassie. By the time Daniel had finished, the entire room was filled with laughter. Even Teal'c looked amused.
"What? He said he didn't know it, so I thought…there's nothing wrong with…oh fine! Have a good laugh!" He folded his arms across his chest and stalked back to his seat. His annoyance making the situation funnier, the group began to laugh even harder.
"I was not aware the Tau'ri still openly practiced interpretive dance."
"It's not interpretive dance, Teal'c, it's a nursery rhyme for kids. They're meant to entertain, teach, or…"
"Jack! I don't need any help, thank you very much."
"Hey, after a stellar performance like that, how could I possibly make you look any worse?" Jack asked, still chuckling. "While you're at it, maybe you can teach him 'Patty Cake' and 'Ring Around the Rosy' too."
"'Ring Around the Rosy' has direct connections to the Bubonic Plague back during the…" Daniel's attempt to justify the well-known verse as historical fact was drowned out when their laughter was renewed. His face grew red with frustration and embarrassment until he finally realized how ridiculous he must have looked singing and dancing to a children's nursery rhyme. Feeling decidedly foolish, he began to laugh too.
Curious as to what all of the commotion was about, JJ came trotting into the den and cocked his head at the laughing humans. Feeling the excitement in the room, the dog began to bark and furiously wag his tail.
"Quiet, JJ!" Cassie commanded, only to wind up with a lap full of wiggling dog and a face full of wet tongue.
Chuckles, giggles, sniggers, and the occasional snort filled the room, as the teammates and friends laughed off the last four months of hardships. Eyes watered and stomach muscles ached, but no one cared; the laughter felt too good to stop for such minor inconveniences. They probably would have carried on for half the night had a yelp of pain not caused all eyes to fall on Jack. Leaning forward and holding his chest, all color had drained away from the man's face.
"Colonel?" Wiping the moisture from her cheeks, Janet was at his side in an instant.
"I'm okay," he gasped, short of breath from laughing and the sudden shock of pain. "It's just a twinge."
"Are you sure, sir?" Sam asked as she and the others gathered around his chair.
"Yeah – no problem. Just gimme a…ouch…"
"Teal'c, in the freezer there should be a couple of ice packs on the door. Can you get me one, please?"
"As you wish, Doctor Fraiser."
"What's wrong, Jack?" Cassie asked, her eyes wide with concern.
"Just a sore muscle, Cass. Nothing to worry about, okay?"
"Is it your ribs, sir?" Janet asked.
"Yeah…it's getting better though."
She tugged up the bottom of his shirt and gently felt around the ribs he had badly bruised falling out of bed about a week before. While the vivid coloring had started to fade, the muscles and bones beneath remained sore. Feeling the tight knot of a spasm, she lowered his shirt and turned to whisper something in Daniel's ear.
"Yeah – out in the car. You want me to grab them?"
"Please." Teal'c returned with the ice a moment later and she placed it against the hurting man's side. "There – that should help a little."
"Thanks." Jack closed his eyes and rested his head back against the chair, trying not to let the pain of another muscle spasm show on his face. He'd been dealing with them periodically since he'd bruised his rib cage, but their sudden onset always caught him off guard. He listened to the hushed conversations of his friends as he waited for his body to calm down, taking comfort in their voices and presence. He could tell they were concerned about him by the way they hovered; even Cassie's dog remained at his feet, an occasional sympathetic whine rising up from the floor.
Although he hadn't done it on purpose, he felt bad for bringing their evening if fun to an abrupt halt. He'd known his ribs were sore and that uncontrollable laughter probably wasn't the best thing for them. If he'd been smart and planned ahead, he could have taped them up before leaving the base and potentially avoided the entire situation.
Jack opened his eyes to find Janet standing beside him. In one hand she held a pill bottle, in the other were two small blue tablets.
"Sam's gone to get you some water. I want you take these – they'll help with the spasms and pain."
"I'm not taking two," he said, not keen on taking any at all. "They drug me out too much. The last thing I need is to be seen staggering into the base."
"What about being seen staggering into your own house?"
"It wouldn't be the first time the neighbors have seen that, but…" Jack thought for a moment, replaying what she'd just said in his mind. "W-what did you…do you mean – my house?"
"You want to go home, don't you, Jack?" Daniel asked.
"Ah yeah, but…I didn't think I was ready." Sam appeared with a glass of water, which he took without argument.
"Well I've been doing something thinking and had a couple of conversations with Lieutenant Ports and decided that it's probably time to let you go home and finish your recovery there," Janet replied. "If it's something you think you're ready to do, that is."
"Hell yeah!" Had his body allowed it, Jack felt he would have jumped up and hugged her – hugged them all.
"I thought you might feel that way about it," she said with a smile. "Now there will be some ground rules like no alcohol, heavy lifting, or driving for a few more weeks, but as you get used to being home we'll slowly start to reintroduce those things. Someone will be by everyday to make sure you're doing all right, and four times a week you'll need to report back to the base for PT. Either myself, someone from your team, or another person from the base can drive you. I also need you to promise me that you'll continue to take your medication as prescribed and to eat properly – take out seven days a week isn't going to be an option."
Although he disliked some of the restrictions, Jack wasn't about to put up a fuss. He was going home, and not just to visit. He could sleep in his own bed, watch TV in peace, and cook his own meals, all without being under the constant scrutiny of a babysitter. "You bet, doc. Give me your list of rules and I'll follow them right to the letter…to the punctuation!"
The doctor smiled. She suspected Jack would promise her the stars if it meant he got to go home. He was bound to mess up a couple of times, that's just who he was, but she knew for the most part he would behave and do as he was told. He'd come a long way since she'd first found him bleeding and unconscious at the base of the alien mountain. Now the time had come to let him progress even further.
She held out the pills again and this time he took them. Giving the tablets a reproachful look, he tossed them in his mouth and swallowed them with the water. "Now what?"
"We finish our game and then, assuming the meds are working by the time we're through, your team can give you a ride home. Sound like a plan?"
"Sounds like a good plan. Except no more nursery rhymes for Daniel – I don't think my ribs can take anymore laughing."
"I don't think my ears can take anymore of his singing."
"Are nursery rhymes always preformed in such an off key manner?"
The archeologist rolled his eyes. "Very funny, you guys. I'd like to see you all try it."
"We wouldn't want to show you up, Daniel."
Jack's eyebrows rose. Sam wasn't usually quick with the comebacks, but when she came up with one, they were quite good. The others continued to bicker playfully as they took their seats to resume the game, but Jack turned his attention to Cassie. The young girl was seated on the floor next to his feet, distractedly picking at her dog's short coat. He reached out and ruffled her long hair with his hand. "Hey."
Cassie turned and looked up at him, her expression shadowed with concern.
"Yeah – are you?"
"Yep. Your mom fixed me right up. I'm sorry I scared you, kiddo. It's hard being hurt. Sometimes I forget and try to do something I'm not ready for yet."
"Oh, I can laugh – I just need to stay away from the uncontrolled kind for a while longer," he said with a wink. "Now come on. What do you say you and me finish beating the pants off these guys?"
Cassie's face instantly brightened. "Yeah!"
Chuckling, Jack shifted around until he found a comfortable position in the chair. His ribs still ached, but he could already feel the medication starting to work. It would eventually make him drowsy, however he was determined to last until the end of the game and maybe even claim victory. The perfect ending to the perfect night… He smiled and settled back into the chair's plush cushioning, ready to enjoy watching his friends as they made complete fools out of themselves.
"Colonel Jack! Come look at this!"
"No! Come see this first!"
"The moon! It's so bright!"
"Jupiter – I can see its moons!"
"Students, please! The colonel will be around to see each of you in turn!" Mrs. Baxter called in her most authoritative voice. "Now remember your assignment – I want you to identify and sketch as many different constellations and celestial bodies as you can. We'll be sharing them as a class on Monday."
Several groans erupted from the gathering of science students, but in the near dark it was impossible to tell which ones. Any complaints about schoolwork were quickly silenced however, when a ball of light went shooting across the sky.
"A meteoroid!" One of the kids cried.
"Uh-uh! It's a meteor, right Colonel Jack?" Countered another.
"Yep – meteoroids become meteors when they enter Earth's atmosphere and burn up," he replied, impressed by the knowledge many of the students possessed. Dressed in a heavy jacket and gloves, Jack watched as the kids of Cassie's science class scampered around the school's athletic field to peer through the various telescopes and binoculars that were set up for them to use. They couldn't have asked for a better October night, with cool temperatures, clear skies, and a waning crescent moon. The stars and planets shone brightly overhead, providing the kids with a splendid view of the cosmos.
"I wish I could have done this when I was their age," Sam remarked as she joined him. "I loved to stargaze as a kid."
"Carter, at their age, you probably had half a rocket built in your basement."
She smiled in the dark. "If only. My father wouldn't let me build anything larger than model rockets. Even those were dangerous when I started to experiment with different sources of power."
"Almost blow up the house, did you?"
"No – but I dented the roof of our neighbor's car once."
Jack chuckled. "Yeah, I can see that happening."
"No. No. No pushing – there's more than enough time for everyone to see everything."
They both turned to look when Daniel's frazzled voice came from over by the baseball diamond. He and Teal'c were surrounded by at least a dozen kids, all jostling for position around the telescope.
"Do not come any closer," Teal'c commanded, putting himself between his friend and the disorderly children. "If you do not discontinue this juvenile behavior at once, I will be forced to remove the viewing device from the premises."
"What did he say?"
Confused comments buzzed through the small crowd of teens, but the large man's message seemed to get through. Forming a sloppy line behind home plate, they settled down to wait their turn.
"And you didn't think Daniel and Teal'c would enjoy themselves," Jack said. "Look at them: they're having a ball."
"I think the kids are too," Janet added as she met up with her friends, a cardboard cup carrier in her hands. "Anyone up for some hot chocolate?" Both Jack and Sam helped themselves to a cup full of the sweet, steaming liquid. "I just spoke with some of the other parents that are chaperoning, and they said they've never seen their kids so enthusiastic about science before."
"Jack!" Daniel called up from the playing field. "How do you change the lens on this thing?"
"Can't take him anywhere…" Jack muttered as he excused himself from the women and went to bail out his friend.
"It's definitely a good way to expose them to the more practical side of science," Sam said, watching as the kids clamored for his attention as walked down to the field. "It's way better than any textbook or movie. Did Cassie's teacher say where she came up with the idea?"
"It was sort of borne out of the discussion she and I had during last month's parent/teacher conference," Janet explained. "When I learned she was looking for new ways to excite her students about the study of space, I mentioned that I worked with someone that was a bit of an astronomy buff. We got to talking and she asked if this person would be interested in pointing out a few items of interest to the kids if she could arrange to have some equipment brought down from the high school. So I talked to the colonel, convinced him to come along, and everything else fell into place."
"The kids certainly like him."
"It's not surprising. Take away his gun, uniform, and snarky attitude, and he's really just a big kid. I'm still amazed at the work he did with Cassie over the summer..."
Having finished with showing Daniel and Teal'c how to change out the lenses on one of the smaller telescopes, Jack wandered over to a larger model that was sitting by itself in the middle of the field. It was a nice piece of equipment: shiny, new, and solidly built. He recognized the design from one of his astronomy magazines as a Dobsonian Reflector. This particular model was a twelve-inch Zhumell, one of the better Dobsonian-style scopes.
He reached out and put his hand on the long optical tube. Even through his leather gloves he could feel the coldness of the metal, its curved armature protecting the network of mirrors housed inside. At full height, the large lens nearly reached his shoulders, and he imagined it had to weigh at least sixty pounds. It was a beast of a telescope, but to tame it would result in some breathtaking views.
Leaning forward to look into the eyepiece, Jack's hand blindly found the controls and began to search the sky for an object of interest.
"Nice, isn't it?" A voice said from behind him.
Jack jumped and wheeled around to find Cassie's science teacher, Mrs. Baxter walking in from midfield. "Ah – yeah, yeah, it's great," he stammered, hoping she hadn't seen him spook. "It's good to know that the school's using our tax money for things other than sports."
Baxter chuckled. "Unfortunately this one doesn't belong to the school," she replied. "It belongs to one of the adults here tonight."
"Oh…well, it's still a nice piece of equipment. I was just trying to find Jupiter. I'm sure the kids would like to see its Great Red Spot – assuming it's up that is."
"Once they're finished with the hot chocolate and cookies one of the parents brought, I'm sure they'll be all over you, full of questions." She smiled up at him in the dark. "I can't thank you enough for doing this tonight. The kids are having a blast and I dare say they might be learning something too."
"Well don't let that little bit of information get out, or they'll never look into another telescope again," he said jokingly. "And you're more than welcome for the help. I'm just an amateur astronomer myself, but if I can pass on what limited knowledge I have to someone else, great." He turned back to the giant scope and began to fiddle with the controls. "If you want I can let you take a look at Jupiter before the kids get here…"
"That would be lovely."
Orienting himself with the stars overhead, Jack carefully guided the telescope into position to best see one of his favorite planets. He'd never used such a large model before, but the controls felt right in his hand. Suddenly, the Solar System's largest planet came into view. No longer just a bright speck in the center of the lens, he could clearly see the gas giant's colored striations and its famous Great Red Spot. Even with all he'd seen in his travels through the gate, its beauty still managed to take his breath away. "There it is. I can't believe how clear it looks. Whose telescope is this? Maybe I know them – or should know them."
"It's yours, Colonel."
Jack looked up from the lens to expecting to find Mrs. Baxter, but finding his team, Janet, and Cassie instead.
"It's yours," Janet repeated.
"This?" He looked down at the large black tube balanced precisely on its swiveling stand.
"Come on, Jack, this is no time to play dumb," Daniel said, his glasses reflecting in the weak moonlight.
"But I…I don't…"
Cassie walked over to her uncle and wrapped her arms around his waist. "We got it for you," she said, hugging him for all she was worth. "As a thank you present for helping me out."
"And get well gift," Sam added.
"You have earned it, O'Neill," Teal'c said. "We did much research to find the model that would bring you the most enjoyment."
"We hope you like it, Jack," Daniel agreed.
Jack didn't know whether to jump around with excitement or sit down and cry. He'd never asked or expected payment for his work with Cassie, especially since her success was more than he could have ever hoped to receive. "I…I…do. Yes. I love it…but there's no way I can accept something like this. I mean…"
"Yes, sir, you can," Janet replied, coming over and putting her hands on her daughter's shoulders. "You did something for Cassie that I couldn't have done myself. I knew you'd never let me pay you, so your team and I got together and decided that this would be an appropriate reward."
"We all chipped in, sir," Sam said. "You've been through a lot, and while this certainly doesn't make up for what happened, we hope it brings you some enjoyment."
"I…yeah, definitely," Jack uttered, unable to take his eyes off the large scope. He finally turned to look at his friends. "Thank you – all of you. This, and everything you've done for me while I was…" He stopped and sighed. "It really means a lot."
"You're worth it, colonel," Janet said, stepping over and giving him a hug. The rest of his team followed, pausing to embrace their leader and murmur their own words of appreciation and support. Jack found the attention overwhelming at first, but he quickly relaxed and enjoyed spending an intimate moment with his friends.
"So now that you know this thing is yours, are you still going to let thirty sugar-fueled thirteen year olds come near it?" Daniel asked.
Jack looked at his shiny new toy and then to the group of teens mingling by the back of the school. He could hear them laughing and shouting, their energy renewed thanks to a sugary snack. He gave a sharp whistle. "Hey!" he shouted, instantly getting kids attention. "If any of you space monkeys want to see Jupiter, you'd better haul Uranus over here pronto!"
As a whooping cry of laughter rose from the crowd of teens, Jack turned back to his friends and offered them a lopsided grin. "Think that got their attention?"
Chuckling, Sam leaned over to Janet. "What was that you said about him just being a big kid again?"
It was nearly 11 o'clock by the time the last student left for the night. Mrs. Baxter had thanked Jack and the others profusely as they helped carry the borrowed equipment back into the school. The stargazing tutorial had been huge success and earned the approval of both the students and their parents. Now all that remained was the delicate task of moving Jack's new telescope from the middle of the ball field to one of the awaiting cars.
"So how much does this thing weigh?" Jack asked, carefully screwing the lens cap into place over the eyepiece.
"Approximately eighty pounds," Teal'c replied.
Sam slowly walked around the large piece of equipment and shook her head. "There's no way this is going to fit into my car. Especially if I'm giving you a ride home too, sir."
"Well it's not going to fit in mine either," Daniel said. "It took Teal'c and I two trips just to get it out here."
"Perhaps we should disassemble it and divide it between the two vehicles," Teal'c suggested.
"That might be the easiest way. Teal'c and I could take the optical tube in my car, and Sam could take the base in hers. One of us would just have to tie Jack to the roof."
Jack shot the other man an irritated look. "Funny."
"I can give you a lift home, sir," Janet volunteered.
"It's getting kinda late, doc. What about Cassie?"
"She's been abducted by one of her friends, so my curfew just got extended by a few hours," she replied. "It's up to you. I'm headed in that direction anyway."
Jack shrugged. "It works for me. You guys okay with it?"
Murmurs of agreement went through the group.
"Sure. We'll divide up the scope tonight and meet back at your place tomorrow to get it up on your roof," Daniel proposed.
"Sounds like a plan," Sam said. "Assuming you guys remember how to take it apart."
Daniel knelt beside the telescope's wide base and looked at the array of screws, wing nuts, and washers. "We got it together. How difficult can it be to take it apart?"
After working for nearly half an hour by flashlight, the group finally got the telescope's long optical tube separated from its base and loaded safely into the backseat of Daniel's car.
Jack cupped his hands to his mouth and blew into them in hopes of getting feeling back in his cold fingers. "So you'll take it easy, right? No holey dirt roads or taking railroad tracks at fifty?"
Daniel slid into the driver's seat and turned the key. His old station wagon's engine roared to life. "I'll be extra careful, Jack. If it survived my driving once, it can do it again."
"I'll take good care of the base too, colonel," Sam said as she tucked a small bag of assorted pieces into her pocket. "And all of the hardware that goes with it."
"I trust you will, Carter," he said, closing the door once she'd climbed behind the wheel of her sporty little car.
"I'll call you tomorrow to set up a time to get this thing put back together."
"Sounds good, Daniel. Have a good night, you guys. Drive safe."
Waving, Sam dropped her car into gear and sped off into the night with Daniel and Teal'c not far behind. Watching them go, Jack jammed his hands into his pockets and drew in a deep breath of the cold night air. Who knew that an alien, an astrophysicist, and an archeologist would make such loyal, dependable, and efficient teammates?
A car slowly pulled around from the parking lot and came to a stop in front of him. "You ready, sir?" Janet asked through her lowered window.
Taking one last look in the direction his friends had gone, Jack walked around to the passenger side of the car and climbed inside. Peeling off his gloves, he placed his hands against the panels along the dash, soaking in the warmth that was blowing gently through the vents.
"It was quite a night," she said, guiding the car out onto the nearly deserted street.
"You can say that again," he uttered, staring out into the darkness. "I hope the kids got something out of it."
"Oh they definitely did. Just listening to their conversations as I was walking around – there was talk of Cassiopeia, Pegasus, super novas, and comet trajectories. They were starting to sound like budding astronomers."
"Some of them could be. High school science class was where I first became interested in the stars." His hands warmed, Jack sat back in the plush seat and let his head rest against the window.
"You tired, sir?"
"A little. This is the latest I've been out in a long time," he said through a yawn. "But it's a good kind of tired. The kind you get after working hard and accomplishing something."
"It's amazing how much energy those kids have. I'd love to be like that again…wouldn't you?"
Jack thought about being thirteen again for a moment. "No," he said honestly. "I wouldn't."
The doctor chuckled. "Yeah, maybe you're right. Kids today are so different than when I was in school. To go through high school and college again, I don't think I…"
Half listening to what his friend was saying, Jack watched the passing nightscape through bleary eyes. The kids had definitely worn him out, but not in a bad way. Their pointed questions and thirst for knowledge had kept him going long after the feeling of fatigue had started to set in.
"…The first two years of med school were the hardest for me, but I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with…"
Warm, comfortable, and relaxed by Janet's familiar voice in the background, Jack allowed his drooping eyes shut, intent only on resting them for a minute…
"Colonel? Wake up, sir. You're home."
Home? Jack thought as a quiet female voice gently roused him from the depths of sleep.
Reluctantly opening his eyes, it took Jack a minute to realize he was still in Janet's car. "Oh crap…" he uttered, using the seatbelt strapped across his chest to lever himself up in the seat. Yawning, he wearily scrubbed a hand across his face. "Sorry, doc. I didn't mean to fall asleep on you like that. You should have woken me up."
"And risk incurring the wrath of a cranky colonel? Never," she said with a grin. "It's all right, sir. You dropped out so hard and fast, I figured it was best just to let you sleep. You feeling okay?"
"Yeah, pretty good actually. Just a little tired." Looking out the windshield, he noticed they were parked in his driveway behind his truck. "Oh. We're…I'm home."
"Yep. Fraiser's Taxi at your service."
Jack smiled. "I appreciate it. If you hadn't offered, I would've had to squeeze in between Daniel and Teal'c, and that's just getting a little too cozy for my liking." He yawned again and unhitched his seatbelt. "You want to come in?"
"Sure, for a minute," she replied, wanting to make sure he at least got inside before falling asleep again. Releasing her seatbelt and opening the door, she followed him up the driveway and onto the front step. "Thanks again for coming tonight, sir. I know it ran a little late, but Mrs. Baxter was very impressed by your knowledge and your willingness to interact with the kids."
Jack plugged his key into the door and released the lock. "I had fun. It was a good group of kids and they all seemed enthusiastic learning about the stars." He pushed open the door and turned on the hall light. "Plus it was great seeing Daniel get swarmed by a group of teenagers…"
Janet laughed. "Well don't be surprised if she asks you to come back again next year. "
"I'll do it."
"Great – I'll let her know."
"So…can I get you anything? Coffee? Tea? Soda? I've got a bottle of Speyburn kicking around if you want something a little warmer…"
"No thanks, sir, I should really be going. I just wanted to thank you again for everything you've done for Cassie and me. You did an incredible job and more than exceeded my greatest hopes. I also know you helped Sam work through some of the issues she had surrounding the accident, and I wanted to thank you for that too."
He gave a modest shrug. "It was my pleasure to help Cassie. I was honored that you even asked me. Book learning has never been my strong point."
"I think it's a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for, colonel," Janet said, turning to leave.
"Um, hey, listen…I-I wanted to thank you too for the telescope – which is wow – and for everything else you've done for me. You…you saved my life that day and again when I got sick. I know I'm not always the easiest person to deal with – I even piss myself off sometimes – but I really appreciate you sticking around when most people wouldn't."
"You're welcome. And like I said back at the school, for all of your foibles and quirks, you're worth it." He suddenly grew very interested in a scuffmark on the floor, but she still caught a glimpse of the humbled look that crossed his face. She reached up and squeezed his arm. "You survived an injury that most people wouldn't. It just goes to show that being a stubborn pain in the ass is good for something."
Jack's eyebrows rose. "You just called me a pain in the ass." And then, after a moment's thought: "Again!"
Grinning, Janet opened the door and stepped out into the night. "Oh! And before I forget, Monday morning we're going to try something new."
"What's that?" he asked, following her out onto the stoop.
"After PT, I'm going to have you workout with Teal'c for a bit. If all goes well and you behave yourself…" she said giving him a pointed look. "…You might just be able to go back to work by this time next month."
Jack blinked. "Back to work? As in…?" He made a vague gesture toward the sky.
"Yes, sir," she replied, getting into her car and starting the engine. "As in that."
"I thought you might like to hear that," she said with a chuckle. "Have a good night, colonel."
"G'night, doc!" Grinning like a fool, Jack watched as Janet backed her car down the driveway and into the street. He waited until her taillights were out of sight before he reached inside to turn off the porch lights for a final look at the stars. As beautiful and serene as the cosmos seemed from Earth, he knew of the threats that lay hidden in the darkest reaches of the galaxy. In just a few short weeks, he would once again rejoin the elite few who faced such dangers head on to help keep their little part of the Universe safe.
Smirking, Jack stepped back inside and closed the door on the night.
And for that he couldn't wait.