a thousand petals, a thousand paths

There had been an accumulation of signs, sharp little pokes that she blithely ignored. It wasn’t until Mitchell’s off-hand comment that she started paying attention.

When the SGC was overrun by a multitude of alternate SG-1 teams, Mitchell had joked about her finally having someone to keep up with her. Sam had smiled, said, “Yup!” in her bright, self-satisfied way, and hadn’t realized until later that Mitchell was right. Besides Daniel – whose brilliance ran in completely different circles – there was no one around who could keep up with her, except for herself. And maybe McKay, but he was in another galaxy, thank the stars. And yet, she did her damnedest to try to find someone, anyone, even if they were a square peg, to fit into the round hole in her life that was so achingly empty.

What was she fighting for? What was she fighting against? Was it because of her dad? Yes, being the child of a military man was difficult, especially when the only softening influence in her life had died so early in her youth. What was she to do but join the military herself, follow in her dad’s footsteps, outshine, outperform … outwit, outlast, outplay. Yeah, her life was one big game of Survivor. But she could accept that, the gains were so much greater than the losses.

And she was winning, right? She’d graduated top of her class, full honors, wunderkind of the Air Force. She was one of the fastest-rising women in the military, had countless science awards with her name on the plaques, and more medals than anyone would ever need or want. She was a member of the flagship team of the most secret program on the planet, a team that went to other worlds, for crying out loud. She’d posited, and proven, more groundbreaking theories than any scientist outside SG-1 (excepting one annoying Canadian), and logged more time in the field than any soldier outside SG-1 (excepting one insouciant general). The Stargate program had been good to her, very, very good to her.

So why didn’t she feel good about it?

Like the excellent scientist she was, she stood back, looked at all the evidence, viewed her life, and those within it, with fresh eyes.

She looked at Teal’c and saw what he had become. This indomitable man, with muscles like stone and a gravitas that was both compelling and reassuring. He was a warrior, one of the heads of the Free Jaffa Nation. He was a lover, though his trips to visit Ishta were unhappily infrequent. And he was a friend, one who could claim many people at the SGC as close confidantes, not least of whom were she and Daniel. And Mitchell was already in the Jaffa Fan Club, if not actually president. Teal’c was of SG-1, but he was not. He had filled those spaces in his life that had, for so long, been empty. Loss of home, loss of love, loss of nation, all, after so many years, regained, planted into his life stronger, deeper, like an oak tree.

Then she looked at Mitchell and saw what he was becoming. This lean man, with the pale-blue eyes and the voice like Southern bourbon, was becoming so many things. He was becoming a warrior, a piece of clay cast by the Air Force, shaped and smoothed by the Sodan. He was becoming a leader, one who was quickly learning to balance his rashness with thoughts of the unit as a whole. And he was a friend, always ready with a quick smile for anyone who could look him in the eye and not flinch. He was of SG-1, but he was not. He had filled the empty spaces in his soul that had, for years, been so empty. Loss of confidence, loss of self-dependence, all now regained, reaching stronger, higher, like a stone tower.

And then she looked at Daniel and almost recoiled, which confused and saddened her. Daniel, who had become an important part of her life the first time they met on her first mission to Abydos. What had he become? This passionate, compassionate man, with eyes bluer than tropical seas, was in a constant state of growth and change. He was already a sharp scholar when he joined the SGC, and he quickly became the civilian soul within its military armor. Yet for all his knowledge and compassion, he had also become a warrior, as capable with a gun as he was with his formidable intellect. Most importantly, he was her oldest friend still left at the SGC, someone she could talk with, argue with, laugh with, his shy smile always a warming pleasure. He was of SG-1, but he was not. He had filled the empty spaces in his heart that had, for years, been so empty. Loss of purpose, loss of love, loss of life, all regained, spanning stronger, wider, like a vast, warm ocean.

But to recoil from him … if she recoiled from Daniel, squirming uncomfortably, the whiplash reaction of jerking away from Daniel brought her in a one-eighty to face .. to face …


To face him.

It was when she tried to look at General O’Neill – Jack – that she shied away completely, even more horribly confused. Because thinking of Jack led her to thinking of Daniel, and thinking of Daniel led her to thinking of Jack. She didn’t like how they always seemed to be linked, even in her own mind.

Step back, observe the evidence.

What had Jack become? That hard, scarred man, with the weathered, tanned face, the dark eyes and silver hair, was still an enigma to her. He was a General, though God knows how that happened, with all the black marks and insubordinations on his record. Really, it was because he was a hero, true and blue. No two ways about it. He was also an intellectual, far more intelligent than he ever let on; he could no longer hide the fact that he actually had time to read books now, and would (and frequently did) comment quite sharply on them. And he was a friend, one with a sarcastically witty sense of humor, much to the bemusement of friends, alien allies, and enemies alike. (And why was it that Thor was the only one who really seemed to get O’Neill’s humor, out of all their alien pals?) He was of SG-1, but he was not. No longer. He had softened the hurt in his soul that had, for years, consumed him. Loss of son, loss of wife, loss of career, all now regained in the mellowness of maturity, burning steadily like a carefully banked fire.

But was he only just a friend? Weren’t they supposed to become more? It had seemed that way. Over the years, the signs were there, the looks, the words, the intimations, the alternate realities, for heaven’s sake. She had certainly assumed they were supposed to become more, she had thought so, she had hoped so.

Hadn’t she?

She had built dreams around that assumption, had broken off an engagement with Pete Shanahan for that assumption, but now? She had been the good little soldier, she had bided her time, she had loved from afar, her time had come, yet … there was something wrong, something was missing.

Wasn’t there?

She was so confused. Her scientific objectivity wasn’t helping her in the least.

She sat in her lab and played with her “doohickeys,” as Colonel – General – Jack would say, and she looked backwards in time, and dreamed forwards in time, and stared a hole through the wall, and she couldn’t help but feel that she was missing out on something, that something had passed her by, and she wasn’t sure what.

She was incredibly intelligent, she was incredibly successful in her field, aliens and humans alike wanted her, died for her, she had saved the world too many times to count, but …

What had she become?


What was she becoming?

What was hers, where did she fit in?

Perhaps, instead, she was the square peg looking for the round hole.

And it started to sink in that all the men in her life had moved forward (she couldn’t think of any women, now that Janet was dead, and God, she missed Janet so much). They had moved beyond, while she was still struggling, still striving, still trying to catch up to some ideal that only she held and that was, perhaps, no longer … applicable?

What a terrifying thought. What an absolutely terrifying, shattering thought.

Mitchell’s comment had been the catalyst to all this introspection, but it was Daniel’s airline mug that transformed those questioning pokes into one great backhand to the face.

She was there, in Daniel’s lab, when he unpacked the courtesy mug from the airline. “Completely useless,” he muttered, passing it off to someone on his translation team. When she asked him what it was for, he rummaged through the packaging, pulled out a sheet of paper and relayed, “Thanks to you for all your time spent with us.” He shrugged. “Their version of frequent flyer miles?”

When he left the room for a moment, she looked at the sheet of paper, and saw that not only was it a Thank You from the airline, but it was also a log of all the miles he had recently racked up. He had just booked his third trip to DC in five weeks. Never mind the shock that they’d been planet-side for long enough to book that many trips, but …

Three trips.

Five weeks.

The realization was a shock to her system, she could swear it was a literal shock, every cell in her body vibrating, then numbing. Her breath caught, she was frozen immobile, her eyes dried from lack of blinking.

Of course. She was so stupid. So very, very stupid.


And that’s when she knew. She had invested herself in all the wrong things, in all the wrong ways, and now … now …


It was too ugly, too painful, but it was true.

Breathe. Breathe.

She had tried too hard. And in trying too hard, she found herself left with nothing. The alternate realities had been just that – alternate.

She had herself, her accomplishments, and nothing else. There was no oak for her, no tower, no ocean, no fire, she was simply air, and she had watched the history of her life, of their lives, pass her by.

The question now, was …

Would she simply continue breathing, and content herself with always watching?

Or would she become the wind, and push, and erode, and make the waves dance and the fire flicker … and take back her life.


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