Read the Christmas ficlet first.
Sam/Jack as usual.
I must admit
I thought the trip
was better made in younger seasons.
It's been a long journey, spanning ten years and two galaxies.
They’d run out of things to say forty miles ago; talking was never their strong point. They'd certainly had more practice in recent months, when she was on Atlantis and all they could do was talk, passing video notes like a couple of high-tech middle schoolers.
It was possible their lives were just too big. Spaceships, and alternate realities, and apocalyptic enemies weren't the things after dinner chats were made of. She wondered how long would it take for them to stockpile enough mundane experiences to have a normal conversation.
Jack reached over occasionally to touch her hand or squeeze her thigh. An offering of comfort or a verification of her existence, she wasn't sure which. She’ll take either and maybe those simple touches were enough communication for the two of them.
He slowed the truck and turned on to a single-lane dirt road that was easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention. The trees grew closer together, pressing against the road while Sam sorted through the random thoughts in her head. They were numerous and varied: how to increase the yield of a bag of microwave popcorn, what was that other chevron for, how long would it be before Woolsey got the entire Atlantis expedition shut down?
"I can probably have Woolsey killed," said Jack, as though her thoughts had been projected onto the windshield. They'd had a run-in with a telepathic brain parasite the year Daniel ascended and she sometimes wondered if Jack still caught her thoughts. He'd kept the barber from them. Why not that?
"What? No." She thought for a moment, considering. "It's not his fault." Woolsey was a tool in every sense of the word, wielded by the IOA in its typical brutish fashion.
Jack was unsympathetic. "If you say so."
The conversation didn't have enough traction to continue on its own so they drove on in silence. She took his hand, running her thumb along the callouses of his palm and thought that maybe she wouldn’t miss Atlantis after all.
The last stretch of road was long and dusty, full of holes and rocks that needed to be eased over or avoided. The parallels weren't lost on her and her reflection smiled grimly in the window. It's a wonder they ever made it this far.
A cloud of dust rose up around the truck when they stopped, giving the cabin a sepia-toned look in the late afternoon sun. They didn’t have much daylight left.
"Well,” he said, when the dust settled. “Here we are."
“Here we are,” she agreed. She got out of the car and stretched, trying to work the road-trip stiffness out of her back. Space travel had her spoiled.
Jack came around to her side, carrying a cooler and a well-worn backpack. “Come on,” he said. “I’ll give you a back rub if you help me put the food away.”
“Sounds like a deal.” She leaned over the cooler to kiss him before grabbing her duffel bag and following him to the door. His hands were too full to open it so she dug her own key out of her pocket. She rubbed her thumb over the keychain out of habit; tracing each line, pausing over every scratch and nick. Scars to match her own, she knew the stories behind them all.
The fish had lost its shine over the years. Its edges were soft, worn smooth by her own hands. It’s traveled with her to countless planets--through stargates and on ships, in good times and bad. She’s wanted to throw it away, to give it back, and she’s searched for days when it’s gone missing.
A talisman, keeping her safe. A promise, giving her a reason to live. A painful reminder of what she was giving up. It’s been all those things and more.
Today, it was just a keychain, and that’s really all she’s ever wanted it to be.