Disclaimer: Nope, got nothin... which is the point, isn't it?


by Linda Bindner

A/N1: An AU from after 'It's Good to be King' in 8th season

A/N2: By the time I realized that there's a Point Of View problem in this story, rewriting it to come from only one character's POV would have been monumentally time consuming, and I'd already spent a year on this story - long enough! So I attempted to indicate near the beginning of each chapter who's POV you would be enjoying - if I failed and you're still confused to death, I apologize ahead of time.

A/N3: This fic is finished and has 28 chapters. Some are short, some are long.

A/N4: Thanks goes to Noda2, KEF, and Sasha7 for being such great betas. This story is as much yours as mine.

Chapter 1

The minute SG-1 arrived back from the mission, Sam did the unthinkable.

At the bottom of the ramp, in the crowded Gate Room, Sam Carter asked General O'Neill to give her away at her wedding.

And in the next instant, General O'Neill dissolved, leaving Jack in his place, a man steeped in unhappiness who didn't know what to say. Or, actually, he knew what to say, but his inborn sense of decorum wouldn't allow him to say it - at least, not in the way his instincts wanted him to say it.

But it didn't matter anyway, since Jack couldn't even speak. He stared at Carter, his face twisted in shock, his mouth slightly gaping open, and his eyes glazed over in panic. She wants..! he thought, speech beyond his stunned form. Incredulous, he could only think the same words as before: She wants..! He blinked, his eyelids fluttering against numb eyeballs. He was just beginning to wonder how something as unfeeling as eyeballs could possibly be numb when his mind switched back into gear.

Sam Carter was far too deeply engraved on his heart, ingrained in his psyche, a part of what made up him to actually scoop out and give her away! To be asked to do such a thing... she should automatically know that it was purely impossible!

But apparently she didn't, or she would never have asked such a thing in the first place. Now she stood patiently, waiting for him to answer.

But O'Neill wouldn't, and Jack couldn't. He stood before her, mute, while that horrible moment stretched out like it had become 'The Yawning Black Hole in the Gate Room.'

You could hear a pin drop, the room was so quiet. Jack had a fleeting thought of wishing that he had a grenade handy so that he could blow them all up, then it would make no difference who gave her away. But the necessary ordinance was conspicuously missing - lucky for him.

Lucky for her, too. His sense of decorum had saved her. The silent scene she'd created was embarrassing enough as it was.

Sam's way of handling utterly embarrassing situations was to ramble before she could hopefully hide. “Dad's gone - I can't find him or the Tok'ra, and General Hammond just had that heart attack... and Mark doesn't have the proper...” Her voice finally broke, and she had to clear her throat so that she could continue, her features just beginning to swoop into confusion. “Um... he doesn't have the clearance, and...” Jack was now staring at her with an expression that said she'd successfully killed the last ray of hope he had. And it was clear just from her expression that she didn't understand what was happening, or why.

Despite that, Sam stubbornly went on, as if she didn't know exactly what this scene was doing to him. “And you're the most important...” She'd been going to say 'person to me,' but his strangled gurgle cut her off. His intellect was screaming that if he was the most important person to her, then why was she even asking him to give her away so that she could marry somebody else?

Jack tried hard to make his mouth form words, but he was simply incapable of speech. It was Daniel who responded first, softly asking, “Sam, have you lost your mind?”

Sam looked utterly baffled. “No, I don't think I've lost my mind.” She self-consciously stared around at all the witnessing people. “You're all important to me,” she stated as if to convince them of her sincerity. She turned. “Well, Sir? Do we have a go?”

Daniel's expression of amazement at her seeming callousness was nothing compared to the absolute emptiness shining out of Jack's eyes. He staggered back a step as if she had physically struck him. His surprise wouldn't have been more complete if she had.

Jack was still shocked into speechlessness. Emotion for her that he couldn't control shone out of his widened eyes for just a moment. They meant something to each other, for crying out loud - everyone knew that, despite the way O'Neill and Carter had endeavored for years to bamboozle the entire base population. In the end, they had bamboozled no one but themselves in spite of their efforts. Everyone knew that they shared on oddly unique relationship, one that was, and one that wasn't. Admittedly, Jack had lived a half life since the arrival on the scene of that guy of Sam's - the one she was marrying. But this...

This was the living end. To ask such a question, in such a place... and to ask it of him... It was murder, plain and simple. Sam had just now spoken to Jack as if he didn't mean anything special to her, and never had. His eyes dimmed as she spoke, his last hope dying under the power of nothing but her voice.

When he found his own voice, it was little more than a thin whisper. “No.”

He said it like the reason for his refusal should be more than obvious to her. Her look of puzzled surprise belied what she should have known, however. He only knew that he had to get out of there, pronto. So, he left her and walked out of the Gate Room in a daze, acting on autopilot as he headed in the direction of his office.

The look of bafflement increased on Carter's face. “Is he alright?”

Daniel choked, “Of course not!” His expression of horror increased. How could she do this to him, of all people?

“Will you give me away?” Sam asked next of her team mate.

Daniel's horror was complete. “No!” At the first hint of sadness to slip across his friend's eyes, Daniel hastily explained, “I want you to be happy Sam - we all do - but I can't give you away - any more than Jack could!”

Sam's blink of surprise showed her incomprehension. “Why? Is something wrong with..?”

Daniel could only stare, aghast. He knew about Sam's capacity for denial, but this was denial taken to an entirely new level! “Because he... he... he doesn't trust you!” Daniel blurted at last, his own need to pointlessly ramble surfacing then. “It would be like throwing you away to... and I can't do that - you're my friend!”

Sam was obviously baffled by first Jack's blunt refusal, then Daniel's emotional denial. She turned to Teal'c. “What do you think?”

Teal'c's response was much quicker than Daniel's had been. “I think you are not Colonel Carter.” And he fired his zat straight at her.

Caught by surprise, Sam crumpled to the ramp before she had a ghost of a chance to retaliate. Daniel was able to keep her head from striking the metal beneath her, but his eyes showed his small satisfaction when he wasn't able to do more for her. “Good shot, Teal'c,” he murmured before looking up to Walter in the Control Room. “I need a medic! And tell Jack to get back down here!”

The medical team was duly called and on their way. The call to Jack was less successful. The feeling that everything was doomed had fully encompassed the General the second he had left the Gate Room. By the time Teal'c's zatted Colonel Carter, he had already completely disappeared from the SGC.

* * *

Daniel was positive that Jack would show himself again. Or at least, he was ninety-nine percent positive. Jack was a tough guy, a fighter - he would never take what Sam had done to him at face value. Eventually he would come to his senses and realize that none of this made sense. Then he would return. It was only a matter of time.

Jack typically avoided emotional situations like this one, but emotional or not, Daniel knew that he would not simply abandon them all to the whims of the Goa'uld. Sooner rather than later he would realize that all was not as it seemed in this crazy scenario, and return.

But the Jack-less days mounted. Nearly a week went by, and no one at the SGC, or in the Air Force as a whole, had seen hide nor hair of him.

“This absence - it isn't like Jack,” Daniel stated to Teal'c a week and a half later in the Commissary.

Teal'c calmly regarded him over the fruit he had appropriated for lunch that day. “Perhaps this is the grass that cut the cat in two, DanielJackson,” the Jaffa suggested.

Daniel sighed, anxiety about Jack making him unusually irritable. “'The straw that broke the camel's back' - that's what you mean, Teal'c.”

Teal'c, being Teal'c, knew this. “Yes,” the Jaffa replied, and attacked his fruit with vigor. “O'Neill will return, DanielJackson. When it is time.”

The archaeologist heaved a disgruntled sigh. Jack couldn't return fast enough as far as he was concerned.

* * *

A week later, Daniel was still waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Unbeknownst to him, Jack had no intention of returning. He didn't care if he was considered AWOL. He didn't care if he was now considered to be a criminal. In fact, he didn't care if TPTB threw him in a prison cell for all eternity. All he knew was that this latest Carter-thing was one thing too many.

Jack just didn't care anymore about anything at all - not the JCS - not the Air Force - not the Goa'uld - hell, not even the never-ending war that Earth had been embroiled in for the last eight years. For the first time in all those war-torn months, Jack no longer cared if they won or lost, if they remained free, or were Goa'ulded. He just didn't care any longer. It didn't pay to care.

And this instant only proved that. Here he was, a desperate man, a man on the edge if not a man over the edge, and TPTB were ignoring the writing on the wall once again. He wanted out, and what had they done? 'Request to retire denied,' was what he got out of the flowery words and legal jargon typed on the Air Force stationary he had just taken from the post office box that he'd rented in Atlanta. It was just like his earlier requests to transfer, and to be arbitrarily reassigned. Denied, all of them. The emergency personal leave that he was currently enjoying was due to expire by the end of the week, at which time he was expected to return to his post at the SGC - President Hayes's orders, via General Hammond's office of Homeworld Security.

Jack gave the paper in his hand a grim shake, thoughts of the Gate Room Carter scene accosting him once again. There was no way that he could return to the SGC, despite what the President had ordered. He couldn't face her again.

But what else could he do? He was being given a direct order by the Commander in Chief of the entire country's armed forces. It was engraved onto his military mind to treat these new orders as unquestionable. But his heart simply wouldn't let him consider fulfilling those orders, in spite of his years worth of military training.

Yet... What else could he do?

The answer to that question burned through Jack's mind like a raging wildfire run amuck: he'd leave. He'd get out of the Air Force, and never come back. It was either that, or...

Jack wouldn't even finish that thought. He knew where thoughts like that led, and even though this was the closest he had come to being the way he'd been after Charlie's... he wasn't there yet.

But he soon would be, especially if he returned to the SGC. That was the one thing sure to push him over the edge he was determined to avoid. So, it was clear: he was just going to have to change the President's mind about those orders.

But how could he do that? How could one man, a man who was desperate to boot, change anything besides the toilet paper in his bathroom?

It would take some kind of a desperate action to make the President change his mind, an action that was part insane, something grand, something slightly nefarious, some big gesture to show that he had to retire, now, or slowly lose his mind. And in order to do that, it was time to let everyone think that this version of Jack O'Neill was his return to that suicidal man who had gone on that first mission to Abydos. He may not quite be that man yet, but no one else knew that, not Daniel, not Teal'c, not Hammond, not the President, and certainly not Carter.

At that thought, an idea blossomed in Jack's mind. It was risky, but then, anything worthwhile was. And it was crazy enough that it just might work. Besides being crazy, it had the added benefit of showing that he now had nothing left to lose.

* * *

The bullet missed Hammond by an inch as he was emerging from his car at the Pentagon. George Hammond had the distinct impression that his hair would have ruffled in the bullet's breeze - if he had hair.

The bullet buried itself in the rear passenger tire of his car, causing the tire's air to instantly hiss out of the bullet hole and to mingle with the stunned atmosphere surrounding the car.

That one shot wasn't repeated. As a string of orders were barked by those around him, Hammond stood still, an island amidst chaos, suddenly recalling what had recently transpired at the SGC. Colonel Carter had asked something that was completely unfathomable and unforgivable, especially considering she had asked her request of General O'Neill. As a result, Jack had been gone from the SGC, on leave ever since.

Now this bullet that had seemed to come from nowhere shocked everyone anew. Yet Hammond was pretty sure that the shot had come from Jack, who had obviously intended to miss him all along. If he hadn't, he wouldn't have missed. Hammond knew him well enough to know that.

But no one else would believe that argument when he made it throughout the next week, over and over again. The people of Washington wouldn't listen to him, but instead wanted to rename Jack O'Neill 'Enemy #1.'

A retaliatory sniper was sent in turn to take out Jack O'Neill, no matter his name, before he was able to take out General Hammond. It didn't work. The retaliatory sniper couldn't even find Jack, let alone shoot him. When Hammond returned to his office after what had easily become the worst day of his life second only to the day of his recent heart attack, it was to find a short unsigned letter that was pure Jack O'Neill waiting for him on his desk.

'For crying out loud, if I didn't want to miss you, I wouldn't have. The fact that no one will let me officially retire, transfer, or leave doesn't mean that I don't want out - make it happen. I would hate for my aim to slip - if you know what I mean.

PS - And tell the goon squad not to bother sending another sniper to finish me off. It makes me twitchy.

* * *

Sending another sniper was procedure, though. This time it was someone from O'Neill's own command, someone who knew him, who knew how he thought, what he'd do, who had a deep understanding of what kind of alien weaponry he might have at his disposal.

But General Hammond suspected that another sniper wouldn't do any good, either, even one who reportedly knew General O'Neill so well. He'd sighed in resignation when his arguments about Jack's tactical skills were ignored. Hammond believed his superiors didn't understand what that man had gone through at the hands of someone he had respected and trusted... and, perhaps, loved. O'Neill had found that he couldn't completely trust her any longer, and that had in turn made him depressed, desperate because of it, and thoroughly dangerous. If he said he wanted out, then he wanted out, and no mere sniper was going to be able to change his mind for him.

Three days after that note had been left in the Pentagon (it was still a mystery how General O'Neill had infiltrated the security around one of the most secure buildings next to the White House) Jack made his move. He stormed through the door of Pentagon Meeting Room #12 and leveled his gun right at the neck's of the three uniformed men who immediately jumped in front of Hammond in a bodily attempt at protection. Three quick shots later, the three men were all slumped on the floor with tranquilizer darts protruding from their skin. Hammond was simply sitting in his chair, waiting for Jack, as if knowing that doing anything else was useless.

However, the five men standing at the sides of the room weren't so complacent. They all pulled out guns, meaning to shoot O'Neill at close range, and ultimately apprehend him. As the others in the meeting who weren't already on the floor dove for cover, the bullets of the five men bounced around the room, but didn't touch Jack due to the effects of the personal force shield surrounding him. Hammond briefly wondered how his use of such a shield was even possible without the naquedah necessary to control it already a part of his bodily makeup, but then realized that Jack was using a personal shield alright, but not one of Goa'uld design. He didn't even ask where O'Neill had even gotten such a contraption as the five guards abruptly stopped their assault, afraid of hitting unintended targets.

Jack watched the five ambitious junior officers lay their guns aside, hands raised in surrender, but basically ignored them to focus his attention solely on Hammond. “You still don't get it.”

Hammond just sighed in response. “It's not up to me, Jack. My superiors are being fairly dense on the subject of you at the moment.”

Jack almost grinned at Hammond's dry tone, but smothered the gesture before it got started. “Then I'll give them some incentive,” he said. “I have alien tech at my disposal. I don't care if I had to steal it in order to use it. I don't care if it's classified. I don't care about anything anymore except I want out!” And he disappeared in the white light of an Asgard beam just as several more highly armed, highly determined, and highly dangerous commandos from a special forces team swarmed into the room.

The incident already concluded, the team found that not only did they have no prisoner, but O'Neill had managed to make his demands known without hurting a single soul. The secret meeting held at a secret location for the secret defense budget committee was in a shambles, however. It had been a fast attack, from a clearly furious but collected officer.

“Who was that?” demanded the shaking form of some attaché whose name escaped Hammond at the moment.

One of the efficient soldiers replied. “General Jack O'Neill - Air Force.”

The cleanup continued as the attaché hissed out a rattling breath. “He's one of ours?”

A clipped nod was his answer.

The man blinked again. “I wonder why he's even bothering with proper channels of discharge when he's obviously willing to do anything it takes to get what he wants.”

Hammond ignored the anonymous attaché to enigmatically respond, “O'Neill will try the route of his other option next. I want the... artifact... covered 24/7 to...”

But a yell stopped him in mid command. “We just got a call, Sir - it's missing.”

The blood drained from Hammond's face, almost as if he was suffering another heart attack, but health concerns weren't the problem this time - the extremely efficient renegade officer that he had on his hands was. “Jack has thought of everything,” he wryly stated, though a note of satisfaction also colored his voice. Things were turning out just as he had predicted.

* * *

In the end, an official discharge was granted, to the effect that Jack O'Neill could leave the Air Force with all honors intact as long as his threats ceased. The secret arrest scheduled for his discharge ceremony proceeded as to plan, and so did Hammond's own secret plans. Of course, no Jack was waiting around just to get arrested, and Hammond had to admire the man who had thought of everything long before any other human did, even while he was secretly planning other things. He left the discharge ceremony empty-handed, but with the knowledge that at least he'd chosen the most dedicated man he knew for the job of commanding the SGC, and to hopefully take over Homeworld Security when he chose to retire very soon. He wanted more time with his grandchildren before another heart attack finished him for good. But somehow, his ability to predict that Jack O'Neill's tactical skills would be in full use now was little more than cold comfort.

Not to mention that it ended his plans for retirement. As Jack himself would say, 'D'oh.'

* * *

As soon as Jack had his discharge papers in hand, the Gate was returned to its proper position as mysteriously as it had been taken in the first place. The only person who knew O'Neill intimately enough to counter such a move was still unconscious in the Infirmary. Daniel was currently keeping watch over this clone?... this copy?... this replicator?... as best he could.

The fact that the Gate had been nicely returned to the SGC didn't bring Daniel the comfort that it should have, however. He'd rather know what was going on. He'd rather know where his friends were. He'd rather have them both back where they belonged, and that none of this mess had ever happened.

Unfortunately, the Universe didn't bother to take into account the wishes of a lone archaeologist.

Chapter 2

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