Chapter 3

The Rest Well Nursing Home was indeed real, located at the mouth of a valley at the juncture of two swift moving creeks. The currents slowed before they reached the confines of the nursing home grounds, and the tranquil tinkling as the water slipped over moss covered rocks and through pools shaded by aspen and pine mocked Jack as he crouched on the ground several hundred yards away from the nursing home's main building. The pair of binoculars that he'd bought in Oklahoma dangled from a string worn round his neck, threatening to strangle him before he got completely situated for this stakeout. As he sat in the dirt on the hillside, he wondered how long his knee would take this kind of abuse.

His hiding place was good, the best vantage point he could find... considering. Whoever was after him had yet to show themselves - that is, if someone was after him - which didn't seem to be the case, as Jack hadn't been able to find anybody staking out his stakeout location. If those people existed - even though a special forces General hadn't been able to find them - they would expect him to use at least three different viewing spots in the surrounding countryside, since all three offered better sight than this one did. But those other three sites would surely be covered. Which was why he had chosen this fourth, not so excellent spot to watch from. There were several cars in the parking lot in the way of an unimpeded view of the nursing home entrance, but the parking lot entrance itself was unencumbered, and it was there where most of his interest lay... for now, at least.

But nothing happened that entire first day that Jack lay in wait. Or the second. Or the third. He changed his stakeout spot at least once a day, just to keep any potential watchers on their toes, but it didn't provide the necessary sitings to soothe his concerns.

Jack was just about to call it quits on the afternoon of the fourth day of his stakeout when he unexpectedly struck paydirt. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but he didn't pay it much mind as a familiar looking SUV abruptly pulled into the lot. The driver parked the vehicle in the third row, then climbed from the car. Jack watched in numb fury as none other than Pete Shanahan strode into the facility and vanished from view.

Of all the people he had to see first, why did it have to be him? Just the sight of that man made Jack's blood boil. Gone were the days where he lied to himself, saying that he just wanted Carter to be happy with any man, even if that man wasn't him. Now he was honest enough to admit at least to himself that he thought the guy Carter had chosen as her 'any man' was Jerk Numero Uno, that he had never been good enough for Carter, that his excuses were as flimsy as his alibis had ever been, and that he was one fry short of convincing this particular ex-military man to give him an inch of anything but complete and total distrust.

And he was here because..? Oh yeah, because by now Carter must have found someone to 'give her away' to this jerk, and had actually married him. That is, as long as Carter was here at this nursing home, too. As if she truly needed to be in a nursing home. Yet if those newspaper messages were true...

The importance of the truth of those messages was again eclipsed as that horrible Gate Room scene filled his mind. At the time, Carter had been so... so... ugh! How could she even expect that he would answer a question like she had asked? How could he just give her away like she didn't mean anything to him at all? Didn't the fact that he had once voiced the evidence of an emotional tie to her deserve some amount of respect? It had been more like her over the months preceding that Gate Room scene to skirt around the issue of the life she had found outside the SGC as if that life depended on it. But the way she had shown no respect for their shared though unspoken vow had been so... not like her at all.

Now, when the thunder sounded low over his shoulders, everything he owned in the world about to be swamped in a deluge of astronomical proportions, he could finally at least say the words in his own mind: Jack was Sam's, now and forever. As much as he would like it to be otherwise, especially lately, he was simply never going to be free of her. Sam was as much a part of Jack as his breath. End of story.

At that point, Jack knew that he wouldn't rest easy unless he saw Carter for himself. He peered through the binoculars, keeping his ear trained on his surroundings at all times. The storm moved ever closer as the minutes ticked by. Five. Six.

Ten minutes had gone by before Shanahan appeared again. He moved with stooped shoulders, but with a sense of steely determination. He climbed wearily into his SUV, and banged the driver's door shut. With the help of the binoculars, Jack shamelessly spied on him through the drivers' side window that reflected the cloudy sky above. He saw the cop pause for a moment, a sorrowful look on his face. He angrily struck out at the steering wheel once, twice. He looked to Jack like he was breathing heavily, hissing at the emptiness inside his truck. He ground his hand against the wheel, and shook his head.

Jack watched as Pete clenched his teeth to slowly regained his emotional control. He finally drove out of sight down the shaded drive. The engine had barely had time to cool while he'd been inside, yet the difference the visit had made to his mood was striking.

A minute later, Jack was still wondering about what had changed the man's mood so completely. Jack was still alone, and again sizing up the coming rainstorm, deciding if he should leave now, since he had finally seen someone he knew. Or should he stay for another few minutes to watch this new person, and risk getting wet? His one set of spare clothes were in a plastic bag in his backpack, as were his other pair of shoes, so they would probably stay dry. He'd learned the hard way on his many missions for the Air Force about the importance of keeping things dry, but in all that time, he had never figured out how to waterproof the pack itself. He didn't relish the idea of hauling around a waterlogged pack on his shoulders. Experience told him that if it got wet, the blisters on his shoulders would get rubbed raw to make way for new blisters.

Then, as he stared at the building the cop had just vacated, further movement caught his eye now. The hydraulic double doors moving aside that had caught his interest before finished hissing apart, and Sam Carter herself appeared on a paved garden terrace that had been placed aside for nursing home residents.

Jack's heart leapt into his throat at the sight of her. Instantly annoyed at the reaction, he stilled as she continued to move forward. How she did that moving made him quietly gasp a breath, then let it out in a long, slow hissing sound that imitated the hydraulic doors that had just closed.

Sam's manual wheelchair crawled forward in jerky movements, gliding to a stop at the edge of the terrace where the pavement met the mowed grass. A stillness that Jack didn't link to her followed her through the door. When he'd seen her in the years before, she'd always been filled with a blinding energy, bent over some alien device or other, transfixed by its inner workings, her entire body alight with the glow of her curiosity. If he concentrated hard enough, he had always been able to see imaginary steam pour out of her ears as he actually watched the thoughts mix in her mind. Being able to see the physical manifestations of her thinking process had been one of the things that he loved about her.

Now, however, the lack of motion he saw in her was alarming. It was almost as if she was too sad to move. That aura of serenity (or depression - or anger - Jack couldn't be sure what it was without talking to her first) seemed eerie in its totality. She naturally didn't stand up once she rolled to a stop, but only stared with unseeing blue eyes at the nothing that stretched out before her. She rubbed at her lower legs, and Jack grimaced just as she did.

Her probing hand pushed against the solid flesh of her right leg, then moved to the cavity displayed by her empty pants leg hanging down on her left. Jack had witnessed enough similar injuries to know that her left leg was gone below the knee. She rubbed at that knee with harsh, grinding motions, then raised that hand to also rub at her forehead in dispirited circles. Jack watched her grimace again, right before her expression changed. Now she reveled at the gusts of wind that tore at her hair, as if intensely liking the raw release of power that the storm promised, but not wanting to share it with anyone.

Jack immediately wanted to get a closer look at her. Forgotten was the anger and shock he'd felt at their last shared meeting. Now he found that he just wanted to stare at her in unending adulation. Which was ridiculous. He'd thought that he was going to be angry at Samantha Carter for eternity. It was disconcerting to find out that all he had to do was look at her just once for his anger to disappear like a poof of smoke.

Jack crept close enough to her to hear the angry sigh she issued. Oh, yeah, she was angry - now he could see it in the way she held her lips to a tight line, in the way she rubbed with such control at her forehead. He expected her to do something with all that pent up angry energy, but she didn't do anything. It was downright eerie to watch someone be so quiet, especially when that someone was her.

That controlled silence ended a moment later as suddenly the cop joined her on the tiny patio. When had he come back? Jack had been so enamored with watching Carter that he had missed the SUV's second approach to the nursing home.

The gusts now tangled Sam's blonde hair about her face as she wheeled around to stare right at the cop. Gone was the lack of motion from before. Now she looked like a coiled spring about to burst apart. When she spoke, Jack wouldn't have believed such an unfriendly tone could come from her if he hadn't heard it for himself.

“Why did you come back?” she asked. “I thought I'd made my position clear.”

Shanahan ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “You were plenty clear. It's just...” He looked completely exasperated. “You have to admit that the whole story you're telling me just doesn't wash. How do you expect me to believe something so... preposterous?”

Sam growled low in her throat. “I can't help it if you won't believe the truth.”

Pete's exasperation grew until he finally beseeched, “Sam, what do you want from me?”

Sam's glacial voice carried on the wind. “You know what I want - a divorce.”

His earlier beseeching gave way to another look of frustration. “You know I can't give you that. Doctor Stubs warned me that....”

“I don't care what Doctor Stubs says!”

“You're not being reasonable, Sam,” Shanahan said, a tired sound in his voice giving Jack the idea that this subject had been argued about so often that both of them were tired of hearing what the other had to say about it.

Sam immediately spoke, “I'm fine, as you both know! It wasn't my head that I lost - it was my leg!”

The cop gave his own jerk of aggravation. “That's your depression talking.”

Sam clenched her teeth. “If I'm depressed, it's because neither of you will listen!”

“It's you who isn't listening!” Shanahan bit back to her. “I hear that you're not doing your therapy, and you know that if you don't do your therapy, you'll never get me to believe that anything with you has changed, and you need me to...”

“What they do here isn't therapy, as I've told you before. This place's idea of therapy is putting puzzles of puppy dogs together in the rec room once a week. I need daily therapy that's useful, not some dumb activity to pass the time!”

Shanahan growled in supreme irritation. “The vows we took said 'For better or worse,' Sam. I intend to stay right by you through this, no matter how awful you are to me and everyone else.”

Sam exploded as much as a person in a wheelchair could. “It wasn't me who married you! How many times do I have to tell you that!”

Pete groaned out his frustration. “Of course it was you, Sam! I was there! That's just your meds talking again! We...”

Sam gave a sardonic barking laugh. “You'd think that after all the time we were together, you'd finally comprehend how strange my job is, and I tell you, it looked like me, but it wasn't me!”

“Sam, you...”

“Daniel told me what happened in the Gate Room, what I... she... it... said that made him and Teal'c both know that they were staring at an impostor - it just took awhile for them to prove it. If they knew what was going on, why don't you?” Her glare mirrored the darkened sky. “Why is it that the man who is supposed to be the closest person to me can't see the writing on the wall?”

Shanahan's frustration morphed to anger. “Why didn't that General of yours know then, huh, Sam? You yourself have told me before that even he knew you so well that you two used to complete each other's sentences. Why didn't he stay and prove that you were an impostor instead of shooting his brains out like he ended up doing?”

Jack gave a start of his own - Sam thought he'd shot his brains out? That he was dead? Well, that explained why she'd never tried to contact him.

Jack was so stunned at this news that he almost forgot to watch what Sam was doing now.

Riled, Sam demanded of Pete, “Don't talk about what he did like it was..!”

Shanahan cut her off to belligerently say, “He couldn't cope, and you know it!” Sam didn't respond to his last comment, while Jack sat behind a bush still thinking incredulous thoughts: if he was dead, how had he been discharged from the Air Force? What were those papers he carried around in his wallet? Fakes?

He couldn't check now - Shanahan was going on in an acrimonious voice, and Jack didn't want to miss anything that might turn out to be important. “Sam, we've been over this! You married me - you were there, I was there, there was no impostor that I could perceive. And as your husband, I have the final say right now - you aren't acting rationally! You aren't...”

“No!” Sam's voice cracked across the vacant ground like a whip. “The irrational thing that you claim I did was to marry you in the first place! I had already broken things off with you before that mission where I supposedly started this whole thing by saying to... in the middle of the...!” She didn't put voice to what had happened, as if she couldn't. “Don't you find it strange that I suddenly agreed to marry you when the last thing I said to you was..?”

“You don't have to repeat it, Sam!” raged Pete. “I was there!”

Jack imagined that he could hear Sam's teeth grinding even from his position several feet away in the bushes. “If you were there, then why didn't you..?”

Pete appeared to resolve into that man of steely determination again that Jack had seen earlier. “We're married - that's all there is to it. Get over this fantasy of yours, Sam. I'm your husband. I have power of attorney over your actions, and it takes my signature to permanently take you out of here. In order for me to sign off on that, you have to convince me that you're completely in your right mind. And right now, you're not convincing me that you're even close to being in your right mind.”

“My right mind?” Sam gasped in incredulity. “I was captured, tortured, duplicated, my memories picked through like trash at a garage sale! Of course I wasn't in my right mind when I first saw you again!”

Jack blanched. She had been what?

“But you are now, huh?” asked a disbelieving Shanahan.

“Damn straight I am!” Sam snarled. “Enough to want out of this nut house full of old people!”

The determination firmed when the cop stood up tall against the mountain backdrop. “The Sam Carter I know would never care about how old people are,” Pete announced.

Sam ran a hand through her wind blown hair in utter exasperation as Pete went on. “I agree with Doctor Stubs - you're still not in your right mind, and what you just said proves it. All this talk of duplicating and cloning... it's not normal, now is it? Why can't you see..?”

“And why can't you see that all you're interested in is showing me off to those idiot friends of yours! I'm not the trophy that you can pass around anymore, and that's what's really pissing you off!”

Pete sighed once again, resigned. “Sam, until you start making sense, I can't and won't sign the forms for your release. And there's no way that I can give you a divorce and leave you on your own when you're talking crazy like this. The answer is no to the divorce.” He turned away, prepared to go back in through the door.

Sam nastily shot back at him, “If you're going to leave me here, then leave! Don't bother coming back!”

Shanahan heaved a tired sigh. “You know I'll be here, Sam, just like I always am. I can't leave you in...”

“Of course you can't!” Sam spat. “How would that make you look?

Without another word, Pete simply turned to retreat through the door. It's quiet swish as it shut was at odds to the vibrant argument that it had cut off.

Sam heaved in breath, but didn't follow Shanahan. She didn't do anything, really, not even cry, or strike something in anger with her fists, or scream her obvious frustration into the surrounding silence.

Rumbling thunder cut that silence short. Suddenly spurred to movement, she dug through her right pants pocket until she pulled a cell phone forth. She snorted in dark amusement as she opened it and instructed it to dial a number, still cackling. “Hey, Daniel, it's me,” she said into it after a moment had gone by.

Daniel on the other end must have commented on the amusement in her voice, for she next explained, “I was finding it really humorous that Pete made sure this cell phone was activated so that I could call him if I ever needed anything - and I haven't called or texted him once in all this time, but I've used it many, many times to call you instead. I was laughing at the irony of that.”

Daniel made a quick reply, which Jack had no trouble hearing now that the thunder had passed. “That is funny - but telling me about ironic cell phone accounts isn't why you called - what's up?”

Sam once more ran a hand through her hair in frustration, her attention recaptured by the fight she'd just had. “Pete was here again, and I asked for a divorce again, and he said that I'm crazy again, and that it'll be a dark day in hell before he gives me what I want.”

Daniel's sigh carried over to the crouching Jack hiding in the bushes. “Have you ever thought that maybe the direct approach isn't the best way to weasel a divorce from him? Maybe if you...” What he said was lost as more thunder grumbled through the air, louder this time than it had been before. The wind blew crazily, tossing Sam's hair about like it was straw.

Carter used her left hand to try to keep her hair out of her mouth as she responded to Daniel's suggestion. “I thought of that, Daniel, but I guess I'm too into the direct approach - that soft stuff never worked for Jack, and it doesn't work for me, either. He always left that stuff up to you, and I never blamed him for it.”

The thunder was echoing off into the distance once more, so Jack heard Daniel laugh, then say, “Yeah, Jack always was good at the direct approach. He claimed that I was always the one to get us into trouble, but just as often, it was him and that dumb mouth of his.”

Carter grinned affectionately. “Yeah, he did have a way of saying the worst possible thing at the worst possible moment.”

Daniel chuckled. “Teal'c and I used to count how many hours it would take for Jack to piss off the natives.”

Carter laughed. “And he never found out?”

“Not that I...” Rumble, rumble, crash, boom.

“Oh, sorry,” Sam said in apology. “There's going to be a storm here any minute. That was just the thunder you heard.”

“Are you outside again?” The alarm in Daniel's voice was unmistakable. “Get inside, quick! You don't want to almost get hit by lightening again!” he warned.

Sam sighed her resignation. “That was just a freak accident, Daniel.”

“Huh!” he expostulated. “Freak accidents seem to follow SG-1 around like the plague!”

Sam's resignation now turned to regret. “There is no SG-1 anymore, Daniel. You know that.”

Daniel's tone was now full of that same regret. “Yeah. Teal'c's out with the Jaffa, you're stuck in there now, and Jack...”

“Jack's dead.” Carter's voice was as dead as she claimed her former CO was. “God, I miss him,” she was saying next while Jack was busy poking himself to make sure that he wasn't as dead as she claimed. “I keep expecting him to ring in here some boring afternoon and say, 'Hey, Carter, whatchadoin?'”

Daniel laughed. “That does sound like Jack. But only if he says the word 'doohickey' in that same sentence, one started off with a 'For crying out loud!'”

Sam giggled. “He'd say next 'What's an egghead like you doin' in a place like this?'” For a moment Sam and Daniel laughed together. Then Sam abruptly grew more quiet. “Oh, that was a raindrop. I'm getting wet.”

“Better go in,” Daniel instructed her. “I'll talk to you again this weekend.”

“Ok - talk to you later,” Sam said into the phone, snapped it shut, replaced it in her pocket, then wheeled back the way she had come. The double doors hissed shut just as the heavens opened up to dump loads of water everywhere.

Jack was soaked in seconds. His pack was soaked faster than he was. But he had seen Carter, and seen her interacting with the old team in her old teasing way. As far as he was concerned, getting wet was completely worth it!

Chapter 4

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