Disclaimer: All publicly recognized characters are the property of MGM, World Gekko Corporation, and Double Secret Productions. This is a work of fanfiction for the express enjoyment of other fans, and no money was made with this work. Any previously unrecognized characters or mistakes that occur in this story are the fault of the author, and do not intend to infringe on the copyrights belonging to anyone.

Note: This story takes place somewhere between seasons seven and eight. I haven't seen more seasons than that, so I have no idea what may happen versus what may not happen. The events in the story are based on the occurrences that have already transpired. In future seasons, things may change, but I don't know about all those changes yet, even though viewers who have kept up with the show on television may know and be able to tell me plenty. Sorry if you notice mistakes that, in effect, can't be helped.

Change Comes In Many Disguises

by Linda Bindner

Jack O'Neill sauntered slowly down the gray hallway, his combat boots scuffing across the serviceable linoleum floor. The janitor... what was his name? Oh, yeah, Charlie, Jack reminded himself... came towards him down the hallway. The man passed Carter's lab, smiled, and said, Aloha, Colonel, as he swung around Jack in the narrow hallway. Jack grinned back, called a friendly, Aloha, yourself, and made way for the man carrying a tool box with a symbol of a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and a honking big wrench on it. Jack saw the box and its symbols out of the corners of his eyes, raised his eyebrows in question at the illustrations, but refrained from making his customary sarcastic comment. He was in too good of a mood to be sardonic; he was on his way to see Carter doing some experiment or other, and he was perfectly content with the way the day was turning out. Things couldn't be better.

Then, just as soon as Charlie... how could he have possibly forgotten a name like that?... had slipped by him in the hall and Jack had moved away from the cinder-block wall again, he suddenly slowed at the sensation of tingles moving up his left arm. The tingles stopped at his shoulder, and he'd just had the time to make a puzzled expression when a thunderhead of pain erupted across his upper chest. Jesus... he whispered, half in awe and half in fear of the abruptness and magnitude of such an ache. He tried to grip the wall, tried to remain on his feet, but sweat broke out under the black t-shirt he'd been issued along with his BDUs. The fluorescent lights in the corridor swam in his vision as a second wave of pain attacked him.

What is this, some kind of new weapon that the Goa'uld have developed and secretly doled out among the enemies of the Taur'i, or what? he asked himself. The thought floated like a fogbound wraith through his mind, then he found himself resisting darkness as a third searingly hot wave of fire tried to eat out his insides. The fury of pain was in his blood, now. He just couldn't keep his feet... Hell, he couldn't even remain conscious as the pain started to rip down his arm again. His last coherent thought was that he would have to put off that visit he meant to pay to Carter, and the thought made him sad. But a strong vise of pain made him not care so much as he keeled over and felt the coolness of the linoleum floor biting into his right cheek. Then, even that sensation was gone as the idea that Carter would understand entered his mind. It was the last complete thought he had as he slipped into the dark feathers of unconsciousness.

* * *

Sam Carter looked up from her computer for just a moment; there seemed to be some sort of commotion erupting in the corridor. But she was too close to forming a new hypothesis about the energy device SG-9 had brought back from PRX-138 to pay much attention to what was going on in the hallway. The device and it's tiny marker, little more than a gray box, however, didn't quite grab her entire focus now, and she couldn't stop herself from standing up to try to see what was going on. She decided to try to be some help, but on second thought, opted to remain near her lab. It was just as well, she thought to herself; she would probably just be in the way, anyhow. She settled more firmly in her seat again, and glanced at the clock, noting that it was nearly time for the Colonel to arrive for his daily visit, and briefly wondered where he was. She could use a break, she realized when the data on her screen suddenly swam in front of her eyes.

She blinked to clear her head, and in that amount of time, another group of people ran by the doorway of her lab. They all wore the white coats of medical personnel, and again she wondered what was going on. She had risen to take a peek out her door when two more people pushed a gurney through the crowd of interested onlookers without ceremony or apology, then disappeared from her view.

Sam sighed, a bit sadly, and wandered over to the door. In times like these, true medical emergencies, Sam missed Janet the most. She longed suddenly to see her friend running down the white and gray hallway, with an attitude that was all professional business as she insinuated her way into the center of the crowd. She had been so small that a group of onlookers had often swallowed her up. It had always been a misjudgment of her robust personality, as she had been in charge of the entire SGC infirmary. At least, she had been in charge until that blast from the staff weapon of a hidden Jaffa had cut her life short and turned what had been a bad mission into a nightmare.

The nightmare quality of the bad rescue mission was still filling Sam's mind as she finally reached the door and stepped into the corridor. But she could see nothing as a crowd of the typically milling, useless people successfully interrupted her field of vision from whatever was happening. She had a stray thought that she hoped the Colonel was late, for once in his life, as she stared at that crowd in the corridor. If he were late, he wouldn't have to deal with being held up, she thought with a grimace. The Colonel wasn't the type of person who took interruption particularly well.

But, it was strange that he was so late in meeting her, even though they had never set a specific time for these little rendezvous' of theirs... A shiver of doubt abruptly shot up her spine...

Hey, what happened, what's going on? she asked of the people gathered around her lab, her natural curiosity barely evident in her well-modulated voice.

An anonymous airman answered her; he was so much taller than she was that he could see over the heads of the crowd. Someone fainted, he said noncommittally. I don't know who, yet... Then, he noticed Sam's worry as evidenced by her features, and smiled, trying to set an atmosphere of ease. But you know how these doctors are... hyper over a fingernail... It's probably nothing...

Sam felt an unbidden chill travel up her spine despite the man's assurances, a sensation she hadn't felt since her mom had died. Can you see who it is? she choked, suddenly barely able to talk.

The airman craned his neck to one side and tried to spy into the center of the activity. Nnnnooo... he answered, then put up his hand in an unconscious gesture. Wait, I can see him now... they're lifting him onto the gurney... Oh, God. He actually gave a start as he kept craning his neck at odd angles.

What? asked Sam, alarmed now. What is it?

It's Colonel O'Neill, he breathlessly responded. Then his own brow furrowed in question. Did he contract some strange virus that makes you faint while he was off world or something? He's as white as a ghost.

But Sam wasn't listening any longer as she abruptly needed the extra support of the doorjamb to hold up her shaking form. She jumped aside as white-coated men and women rushed a gurney by her lab on its way further down the hall to the infirmary. Sam watched helplessly as her gaze lingered on the unmistakable gray hair belonging to Jack O'Neill as he whizzed by. The anonymous airman was correct; the colonel was white as a new sheet still in its package from Wal-Mart.

* * *

Sam stared at the phone hanging on the wall before her as if it were a lethal device that she would do better to stay far away from. The soft, familiar sounds of the infirmary continued on behind her, yet even the constant beep of a heart monitor didn't calm her nerves much... she couldn't put off the phone call any longer. She didn't have a choice, really; the rest of SG-1 deserved to know what was going on as much as she did. So, she brushed the stray tears off her cheeks, cleared her voice of the last vestiges of a tremor, and punched the buttons of the phone almost as if she were angry instead of terrified. That was good; she would rather be angry any day over feeling this... this... helplessness.

Hello, chorused a slightly distracted voice over the line.

It was Daniel, probably staring intently at some ancient language or other... Sam couldn't help it - she started crying the moment he said anything. At last, she managed to remain calm long enough to say, Daniel? It's me.

Sam? Daniel sounded almost relieved to hear her voice. Hey, did you see what happened today? I watched the whole thing from inside my office... They say someone fainted or something. Have you heard anything?

Uh... Sam paused, unsure of what to say. Which was unacceptable; she always knew what to say. She was known as the personification of cool while in a crisis. It's how she had risen to the rank of 'major' in peacetime. She was so calm under pressure that she had been dubbed 'Ice Queen' as a joke one boring day at the SGC.

Now, she felt far from icy or collected or queen material. She felt small. Small, and used up.

Sam? Daniel questioningly prompted again. You okay?

Sam sniffled into the receiver. Then she broke down once more and started crying right there over the phone line. God, this was embarrassing. No, she whispered in a thin voice clogged with tears. No, I'm not all right. She took a deep breath, hoping it would help, but it didn't. Daniel, I wish I had better things to tell you, that a visitor hit his head on a door or something, but the truth is the Colonel had a heart attack today, a bad one.

Silence greeted her announcement for a minute, and she heard Daniel's labored breathing over the line. Then, he seemed to recover himself and protested, But, Jack's in such good shape!

Sam exclaimed, I know, I know, but Dr. Corlin says that didn't make any difference! That it must be cholesterol or family history, or something along those lines!

Next came Daniel's gentle query, Is... is he..?

Sam jumped in to spare him from saying it. No, not dead, but unconscious. She gave a despairing look at the phone for a moment, then hung onto it so hard that she almost tore it off the wall. Look, there's too much to say over the phone. Can you come down here? I mean, do you have time?

Do I have..? Daniel began to repeat, then he caught his breath. Give me five minutes. I'll get Teal'c. You in the infirmary?


Stay there. Don't move. And don't... don't do anything... rash.

That last statement stunned some of Sam's sadness away. He was talking about the hidden feelings that she had always harbored for the Colonel. Though, her emotions obviously weren't so hidden as she had often thought if Daniel was warning her against giving in to them. Daniel, what do you take me for? Of course I won't do anything rash!

I know, Daniel answered, calm. But you're not sounding so sad anymore, so it was worth it. See you in five. Then the dial tone went dead.

Sam stared at the colored plastic instrument in her hand, then slowly hung up the headset, sighed, shook her head, and retraced her steps back to the stool she had pulled over beside Jack's bed.

He was so white! The constant beeping of the heart monitor told her that he was alive, but he hadn't moved or even blinked once since he'd fallen in the corridor outside her lab. An oxygen tube hung from a chord on the I.V. rack, in case it was needed in a hurry, and a needle that pierced the back of his hand was giving off the slow drip of the antibiotics that had been the only thing that had kept her company for the last half hour or so. God, she didn't even know what time it was! She was glad, then, for the first time, that she had tossed aside the papers concerning the Colonel's will and had given in to an urge for company and had called Daniel. Briefly, she wondered if General Hammond knew what had happened to Jack, but she no longer had the energy to care overly much. She figured that if he didn't know yet, he soon would, and bent to retrieve the papers.

She was just straightening again on the stool when General Hammond himself strode through the infirmary door. Major Carter, he said in a soft voice. Then he swung his glance down to Jack. How is he?

Sam tried valiantly not to cry in front of her commanding general. He's... She had to take another deep breath and try again. He's unconscious, but alive, for now. The medical teams reached him in time.

General Hammond's shrewd eyes swerved towards her. But? he asked.

Sam took another deep breath. She had to stop this crying, or who knew what the general might think! But... Dr. Corlin can't promise anything at this point, Sir. He... he says that the Colonel might not wake up at all.


Ever, Sam dutifully repeated. If it comes to that, we can keep him alive on a feeding tube for several years... but, Colonel O'Neill would have hated that, Sir.

Hammond sighed, and his gaze swung back to O'Neill. He was silent for a moment, then he said, Let's assume that he'll wake up and be just fine...

Sam had to interrupt again. Dr. Corlin says that even if he wakes up, he'll never be quite the same again... that one never is after a heart attack this big.

Silence greeted her again, then Hammond very carefully commented, You're talking about being part of SG-1, aren't you?

Bleakly, Sam nodded. I don't see how we can stay together after this, Sir, she admitted.

Have you said anything to Daniel and Teal'c about your concerns?

Not yet, Sir. There was a forbidding note in the General's voice that Sam couldn't help but respond to.

Well, don't say anything, yet, requested Hammond. I need some time to think over everything you've said before I can reach any decisions regarding SG-1 or Colonel O'Neill... or anything! He looked at her in slight despair, the most emotion he would allow himself to display. Consider SG-1 on stand-down for now. I don't want any of you going anywhere off-world.

Of course not, Sir. Sam didn't quite understand how talking things over with Daniel and Teal'c could possibly matter at this point, but she said, I won't say anything to Daniel and Teal'c about SG-1 until you've thought about this some more, Sir.

Thank you, Major. And at that statement, Hammond left the infirmary after taking one last look at an unresponsive Colonel O'Neill. He passed by Daniel and Teal'c as they entered the infirmary, and he nodded, but didn't say anything more.

Sam, Daniel called from the door. How is he? then, before she even had the chance to answer, asked, How are you?

Sam hadn't had time to consider that issue as of yet. I'm... I'm... How was she? I'm doing alright, she finally answered. Better than Colonel O'Neill.

The Colonel still hadn't stirred, but he was breathing, according to the gentle rise and fall of his chest beneath the medical issue sheet and blankets on his bed. Sam was beginning to automatically check his vitals.

Daniel shook his head. How did this happen..?

Sam shrugged, fighting back tears again. In a small voice, she said, It just did.

Teal'c then broke the silence he had maintained upon entering the room. All the many advances in technology that we've found... and nothing changes his condition.

Sam hesitated, thinking of the promise she'd made to Hammond only a moment before. And his condition isn't good.

Daniel eyed Sam dubiously. And that's supposed to mean..? He lifted his brows in question.

Sam breathed deeply again. I promised that I wouldn't say more... for now, she emphasized.

Daniel's brows rose the rest of the way until they reached his hairline. You can't tell us anything about our own team leader?

Sam's face crumbled in on itself. I don't know anything more, honest! she blurted. He's been like this since it happened at 09:30 this morning! What more is there to say?

MajorCarter, Teal'c broke in, the calm of his voice acting like a blanket to the argument that Sam and Daniel very nearly found themselves falling into. Do not despair; this, too, has a solution that will resolve itself in time.

Tears again leaked out of Sam's eyes. Thanks, Teal'c. I needed a reminder of that.

Daniel sighed loudly, his hands in his pockets. Yeah, me too, he muttered.

Sam mimicked Daniel by putting her own hands in her pockets. If you want to know the truth, I'm scared to death, she admitted quietly.

There was silence again. The solitude was broken only by the indistinct murmurs of the medical personnel as they discussed cases with each other, the drip of Jack's I.V., and the constant and reassuringly steady beep of his heart monitor.

Finally, Sam ran a hand through her short hair. Um, look, I was going to get some coffee from the commissary; you guys want to come along?

Daniel spoke first. I don't think I need coffee right now, but thanks. I suppose someone should stay here all the time, to be with Jack in case he wakes up, or... He chose not to finish his statement. Nervously, he cleared his throat. You've been in here for hours, Sam - I'll take the first watch. You two go on ahead.

Relief flooded through Sam, then she instantly felt guilty for wanting to leave the infirmary so badly. It wasn't that she had unpleasant memories associated with the infirmary, or that she desired to get far away from a medical problem involving someone who meant something to her personally, but she had been involved in the procedure to bring the Colonel to this point for several hours, and she needed a break. But, she had refused to leave Jack's side when a break had been offered to her in the past. She moved to leave the bedside with Teal'c and said, You do realize that we're the closest things he has to living relatives, now. If anything happens...

I'll page you right away, Daniel ended for her.

I mean, anything at all...

Daniel took his hands out of his pockets and laid them in exasperation on the back of a chair. Will you two get going? he demanded.

Teal'c gently but firmly laid a hand on Sam's arm. We will soon return.

There's no hurry, Daniel called after the two as they headed for the door. I've got things covered here.

Sam didn't answer, but promised, We'll bring something back for you.

Daniel nodded, then Sam and Teal'c were gone.

* * *

The coffee break was taken, the donuts were bought, lunch was ignored, and by 13:00, Sam found herself back on her perch beside Colonel O'Neill's bed. She'd just had time to let out a deep, sad sigh, when General Hammond strode into the infirmary again. It's good that you're here, Major; I needed to see you, anyway.

Me, Sir? Sam asked with a sense of foreboding in her voice.

The General came to a halt beside her sitting next to the Colonel's bed. He began speaking slowly. As the military spokesperson of SG-1, as of now, you should definitely hear what I have to say. He glanced around the infirmary in a cursory manner. Where are Daniel and Teal'c? I would expect them to be here as well.

Sam gave a small smile at what he had chosen not so say. They left me to 'hover' and went down to the commissary for lunch.

Hammond nodded, then looked towards Colonel O'Neill. Any change?

Sam had to swallow. Not yet, Sir, she whispered.

Hammond nodded once more. I guess that's good news and bad news, isn't it, Major?

Sam straightened on her stool, now wishing she had pulled over a chair, anything that might support her aching back. He hasn't... hasn't died, if that's what you mean, she forced herself to say. He's still breathing.

Just like an echo of their conversation that morning, the General asked, But?

As requested, Sam finished off her information. Since I last spoke to you, Dr. Corlin told me that if the Colonel doesn't wake up by tomorrow night, the chances of his ever waking up start to grow smaller every day after that. She smiled that bleak smile again. Not to frighten you, or anything, but I think we should try to be realistic here.

Hammond seemed to be only slightly surprised by her news. Yet, he replied, Well, it seems that taking some time to think about all this was the right decision to make. There was a drawn out silence then as Hammond stared at Sam and Sam stared back.

Eventually, it was too much for Sam to take. What is it, Sir? What can you tell me?

Hammond continued to shrewdly stare at her. You might not like what I'm going to say.

Sam instantly retorted, Forgive me for saying so, Sir, but that's never stopped you before.

The General smiled a bit at her comment. Now, you sound like Colonel O'Neill. But what you say is true, and I've had to tell you a great many unpleasant things over the years.

Are you saying that SG-1 is on leave for the next few months while Colonel O'Neill recuperates? Sam asked. Then she sorrowfully glanced at the man in the bed. That is, if he ever wakes up.

Suddenly, General Hammond placed a hand on Sam's arm, and it was then that she knew that what Hammond had to tell her was more serious than a forced leave of absence from the SGC. What?

Major, Hammond began in a quiet, sympathetic voice, you have to remember that I'm in charge of this entire base, and can't let my personal feelings for any of the personnel influence my decisions in any way.

A chill passed through Sam's entire frame, but all she allowed herself to ask was, What is it?

Hammond bluntly stated, I'm going to consider that it's best for all involved if Colonel O'Neill retires again from the Air Force. SG-1 will be assigned a new commanding officer, effective immediately.

Sam wasn't ready for this news, and she vehemently protested. No, I'm sure that isn't necessary, Sir! A few months of leave would be...

I'm sorry, Major, but that's my final decision, Hammond softly said. I have to consider both the Colonel's general health as well as his future ability to lead SG-1, and frankly, I'm not sure he'll want to be in any leadership position after this, not if it puts the well-being of his team at risk. And after talking with Dr. Corlin...

Sam gaped at him. You spoke to Corlin?

Hammond nodded again. I conferenced with him this morning, and he concurs with my decision. I'm sorry, Major, but even if Colonel O'Neill wakes up to be as spry as he was the day he was born, he still won't be in good enough physical condition to lead SG-1.

A second later, Sam felt she had to shake her head back and forth and pleadingly whisper, Please don't do this to him.

But Hammond appeared sympathetically determined. You know I hate to insist on this, but I have to think of the team as a unit, not just its individual members.

Understanding, but not happy about that General's decision, Sam was forced to nod. I can see where you're coming from, Sir, she admitted, sounding like she felt as if she were the dirt on the floor.

Suddenly, Hammond leaned in close. In a lowered voice, he went on, I have to say this now, as I may not get another opportunity...

Sir? Sam asked in puzzlement.

Now, without Daniel and Teal'c around to overhear... He paused, acting as if he were gathering together his courage to continue.

Which was strange in and of itself, Sam admitted. What could General Hammond possibly have to be afraid of?

I can't say this officially, Hammond began in a tone of voice that was barely above a whisper. There was no way that anyone not seated directly in front of him could possibly hear. Only Sam was seated close enough to him. I'm courting court-martial just suggesting this... General Hammond leaned in close again, ostensibly peering at O'Neill, but speaking to Carter. I know about... you and the Colonel... Everybody knows about that.

Sam reared back when she heard his statement. We've never indicated... she began in an indignant voice.

I know! Hammond made sure to impress. Keep your voice down! He continued to stare at O'Neill. You didn't hear it from me, but this may be the only chance you get! he hissed. Don't disappoint me and let it pass you by again. He straightened a little. Let something good come out of this mess. With that statement, and without even looking at her, he strode from the room, appearing as professional as he had when he had come into the infirmary.

* * *

It was three o'clock in the morning when Sam woke up to the sound of the phone ringing. The instrument sat on her bedside table, kept close at hand because she didn't want to stumble through the dark to the receiver that had been on the wall near the door every time her presence was unexpectedly requested in the 'Gate room. This time, however, it was Daniel calling from the phone in the infirmary.

Daniel was blunt and brusk. Get down here; Jack's awake.

Relief washed through Sam as she sat up in her bed. Oh, thank God, she thought, then grabbed the shirt and the BDUs she had been wearing yesterday, the first clothes that came to hand.

She took the time to dress and brush a comb through her short hair, but that was the only things she did before rushing out her door and to the elevators that would take her down two levels to the infirmary.

Sam entered the medical bay through a door only half open. The room was darkened, as was always preferred at night, but that was the only concession that had been made to keep the room's personnel in touch with the what was happening in the outside world. People wearing white medical coats streamed around the beds, checking this machine or that machine connected to the few patients contained in the facility. It was Jack's bed that most of the bustle was confined to, but by the time Sam crossed the room, the people had discreetly disappeared, and Sam wondered not for the first time, if she had been able to hide her feelings as well as she thought she had in the past. Did everybody know of her connection to the Colonel, not just General Hammond?

Sam made a slight grimace that turned to a smile of welcome as she neared Jack's bed and saw him focusing on her for the first time in a what had been a very anxious day.

Colonel! she exclaimed, not really having to fake her relief this one time. It's so good to see you awake! How do you feel?

Jack sighed, then raised a hand to scrub across his eyes. Like a troop carrier ran over me. Filled to capacity and at top speed.

Yep, Daniel intoned then, the same old Jack... sarcastic as ever. At least the heart attack didn't affect that.

Sam swung her arm in his direction, as if to club him for saying anything, but it was too late.

Heart attack? Jack inquired in a quizzical manner. Was that what it was?

Daniel nodded along with Sam. The reason for Jack's severe condition in the infirmary had been mentioned now, and Sam didn't see the point of keeping any more information from him.

A bad one. We thought we were going to lose you for awhile.

Jack gazed at her for a moment full of shock, then dredged up the energy to make a face of disbelief and say, Nah! You would never be that lucky; I wouldn't let you.

Sam knew his 'you' meant the general public, not just her, but it was nice to pretend that he had meant just her, anyway. We have a lot to tell you, was what she said instead of giving voice to her thoughts.

Like what? Jack asked. Like how long Hammond is going to keep us on stand-down now while I get out of this... He glanced at the bed he was confined to by blankets and sheets tucked securely under the mattress. ... this... this contraption. He struggled with his arms against the blankets, but was too tired or weak to move them more than an inch.

Sam was more than a bit discomfited by his apparent lack of strength, but she tried to distract him by saying, It's something like that, Sir.

Jack looked shrewdly at her. Okay, I can tell by the look on your face; you have more to tell me than something about stand-down. Get it over with, Carter, he ordered.

Daniel looked uncomfortable for a second. Why don't I run and tell Teal'c about you waking up? He's in his room.

Why didn't you call him when you called me? Sam wanted to know.

Daniel squirmed in his chair like a ten-year-old kid. I didn't want to disturb him, Daniel said at last. It's the middle of the night. It was obvious that either he was lying or there was something that he didn't want to say.

Oh, and it was okay to disturb Carter's sleep? Jack asked.

But Daniel was already out the door and in the corridor.

Jack turned back to Sam. You got something you want to tell me? he entreated. Or can I go back to sleep? I'm kind of tired... which is odd, he noted. I've been asleep for... how long? he asked Sam.

She sat in the chair that Daniel had vacated, wise enough now about hospital vigils to know that she wanted something to sit in that offered support for her back. Since yesterday morning, she told him as nonchalantly as she could.

Jack's eyebrows raised to his hair, symbolizing his surprise. An entire day? he asked in disbelief. 'Cause I can tell it's night now, with the lights down so low in here. He looked around at the fluorescent lights recessed into the ceiling. God, I hate the infirmary. It's so... cold, he muttered. Back to Sam. It's bad news, I can tell by the way you're holding your mouth.

Sam grunted. I'm not holding my mouth any special way, she announced, but asked herself how she was looking just then.

Yes, you are, Jack contradicted. Now, tell me.

Sam drew in a deep breath for comfort and leaned slightly forward. You ready? she asked in a quiet voice.

Jack's brows raised again. That bad? he inquired.

Sam shrugged. Depends on how you look at it.

Uh-oh. What happened? We go to war or something?

Sam gathered herself together, then blurted, Hammond doesn't think you'll have the strength necessary to lead SG-1 any longer.

There was silence after this announcement. Then Jack asked, He plans to replace me? he questioned.

Sam readied herself for the vocal explosion that was about to occur in the infirmary. He retired you, with Dr. Corlin's approval. The paperwork went through yesterday.

Again Jack's brows shot up. Retired me? He gaped at her. For one little heart attack?

It wasn't a little one, Sir, Sam negated. It was the kind that's life-changing.

Jack settled once more back onto his bed. Life changing... that's for sure, he grumbled. A silent moment passed, then he mumbled, Retired. The way he said it, anybody listening would think that the General had ordered his execution.

Maybe he has, Sam thought morosely. She straightened on her chair. The plastic let out a whoosh of air as she moved around. I'm sorry, Colonel, Sam muttered ineffectually.

You're sorry? Jack asked sardonically. Sorry? What have you got to be sorry about? he asked. I get booted out of the military and you get to go on with your life like nothing happened. I'll languish at home while you get to have all the fun with another Commanding Officer... What do you have to be sorry about? he bit off at her.

Sam was a bit taken aback by the anger he was displaying to her. I didn't mean that... she began to say.

Jack interrupted her. He sighed, and said, Sorry about that, Carter, that was hardly fair. It's... He sighed again, a sad sound that filled the air near his bed. It's just a lot to take in, he said.

Sam knew him well enough to know that she wasn't going to get a bigger apology than that one. Bluntly, she suddenly changed the subject. Do you want to rest? she asked then. Because I'll leave you alone if you want. I guess you have a lot to think about.

Jack sighed one more time. I do want to rest, he said in a low voice. But..."

The 'but' arrested Sam in her bid for departure from the infirmary. She stopped what she was doing and turned to look at him. Yes? Do you need something before I go?

Jack looked a bit uncomfortable. Finally, he said, I guess I'm not your Commanding Officer any more...

You'll always be that, Sir, Sam said, trying to comfort him in the one way she was allowed to by regulations.

Thank you, I guess, Jack intoned. He glanced at her. Can you... do you think..?

Yes? she prompted.

Stay? he hastily inquired. Then he blinked and added, Stay here, I mean, so I'm not left so alone?

The request was unlike Jack, who was always so strong, but his appeal touched Sam and made her heartstrings quiver for a second. Sure, she said, then placed her BDU coat, which she had grabbed, back on the rear of her chair and sat down.

Jack closed his eyes, but had a look on his face that said he was thinking more than sleeping. His finger touched hers resting on the edge of the blanket. It was rather ridiculous how comforting such a tiny amount of contact between them was in this dark of night.

* * *

A week of dubious calm followed Jack's awakening as he regained enough strength to get back to his normal home life. Then, the moment Dr. Corlin tried to give his patient some medical instructions that he should have been happy to receive, but wasn't, the infirmary saw more noise than it had all decade.

What? Jack barked in incredulity the second the advice left Corlin's mouth.

No more alcohol. Corlin leaned into the bed as if he was going to impart some secret. That means no more beer.

I know what it means! Jack exclaimed in irritation. But you're joking, right?

Dr. Corlin shook his head. The light gleamed dully off his bald spot. I'm serious, he said. I'm also serious when I say no salt for a month, then a low-sodium diet for life. That, plus the blood-pressure medication I prescribed, should lower that high blood-pressure that you have, bringing it right down. He looked at Jack as his patient scowled at him. Unless you want to have another heart attack?

Jack glared again. Now you're just being stupid, he declared without preamble. Of course I don't.

Good, Corlin nodded. He was a man who liked to be in control of his conversations, at least. All those things, plus retirement, should keep you out of this infirmary long enough for you to make it home. He shook his head again. I just wish you weren't going to an empty house, he said, clearly disturbed by that prospect.

Jack rolled his eyes, even as he tightened his hold on the edge of his bed just a little bit in an attempt to keep his balance. No one would have noticed, except for the physician, but he was looking at his charts rather than at Jack. Only Sam, seated on the next bed over, saw his machinations. She chose not comment.

But Jack went on. After the roll of his eyes, he said, Well, I can't help that the house will be empty. His voice was sarcastic again, but there was a hint of helplessness under it, as if he would change the 'empty' part of the situation if he could.

Again, Dr. Corlin continued his perusal of the pages before him, completely unaware of Jack's attitude. Only Sam heard the tiny amount of desperation behind the words. It gave her a boost in thinking that she had come to the right decision of her own.

You're trying to kill me, right? Jack asked then, cutting into Sam's thoughts. You work for the Goa'uld on the sly or something?

Corlin smiled at that question. As many times as you've been through the 'Gate, I don't wonder that you ask that. Then he shook his head. But no, I don't work for the Goa'uld, Colonel. And if you don't follow the advice that I'm giving you now, I can't speak for what might happen to you.

Suddenly, Jack sent Corlin a beseeching look. No more beer? he asked in a begging tone.

Or caffeine, Corlin said.

What? Jack screeched. No more coffee?

Well, cut back if you're really addicted, Corlin amended.

What am I supposed to drink? Jack asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm. Water? he answered himself.

That would be a good idea, Corlin told him. He put his hand on his hip after he'd handed Jack a piece of paper with his prescription scribbled on it. Now, get out of here, and I don't want to see you in here again. Then, he added, The infirmary, I mean, not the base.

It was well known that in order for Jack to get back on the base again once he was off, he would need a visitor's pass and a lot of pull from high places. Oh, thank you so much, he said, still sarcastic.

Sam chose that moment to intervene. Thank you, Dr. Corlin, but I think it would be a good time to leave us while you can still walk away.

Good idea, Corlin acknowledged. I'm gone. Call if you need to; I wrote the number on your script. Then, he was gone, disappearing into the office that had been Janet's until only a few months before.

Sam gave a rather sad sigh that was full of memories, but had her features arranged in a smile when she faced Jack. Ready? she brightly asked.

To go to my house for the secret retirement party that's been planned for half a week? Jack asked.

Sam stared at him with a quirk to her lips; her expression now was not quite a smile, and not quite anything else, either. It was the look a parent gave a child who was being naughty, but going about it in a humorous way, and the parent was valiantly trying not to laugh. How did you find out about that party? Sam asked accusatorily as she grabbed her casual jacket from the bottom of the bed she was sitting on. That was supposed to be a surprise.

Oh, it is, to everybody else, Jack assured, then grinned. Come on, Carter, everyone's been whispering about it for an entire week. You know how nothing is a secret around here.

They had reached the door to the infirmary and passed through it and on into the corridor outside. They started to make their way to the elevators that would take them to the surface, and the garage where Sam's vehicle was parked.

That's not all that's a secret, if you want to know the truth, Sam divulged as they continued to walk slowly down the hall, the fastest pace that Jack could handle.

What do you mean? Jack asked, then he nodded in understanding. Oh, you mean Daniel and Teal'c... aren't they meeting us at my house?

Sam looked a tad guilty now. They're in charge of getting the cake, she admitted.

Jack lifted his head as if it were obvious that they would be involved. Oh, there you go, he said, as if it would have been clear to anybody. I knew this setup smelled like they were part of it.

Sam slowed even further. Uh, Colonel, I feel as if I should warn you that there might be more names than just yours on that cake.

Jack slowed, too, so that he could stay beside her. What do you mean? Is someone else retiring? he asked. I have to say that I'm not the kind of person who shares a party very graciously - good thing I'm not twins, he commented.

A few quiet seconds went by before Sam had gathered enough courage to say, Well, yeah, someone else is retiring, as a matter of fact.

Poor sap, Jack said right away. Come on, tell me, who is the Joe gonna be this time? I mean, I am sharing my house party with him, after all - you should at least tell me who he is.

Or her, Sam said.

Jack raised his brows; there weren't too many females in the military, and when one left, it was as big a deal as when a new one became a member. All right, who is she or he? he inquired in an inquiring tone of voice.

Sam answered immediately, too scared to say nothing, and even more afraid to remain quiet. Me.

Jack came to a standstill in the middle of the hallway. Men and women military personnel walked around the couple stopped in the middle of the corridor as if they weren't there. He gaped at her. You're retiring?! he demanded to know.

Sam looked up and down the hallway in a rather nervous gesture. Well, it seemed like the right time, she excused.

Jack stared at her in incredulity. Are you insane? he asked with a small sense of wonder.

I might be, Sam admitted.

Then what are you doing? Jack asked. You have your whole career ahead of you! A brilliant career, at that! With a scientific mind like yours, you can go as far as you want! How can you just quit like that?

Sam let the arm that she had lifted in a halting gesture fall back to her side, and she sighed. It's not like I'm giving up anything...

Oh, yes you are! Jack insisted passionately. What? Do you have trouble with the idea that I won't be your CO anymore, or..?

Actually, Sam said, looking at her watch. You stopped being my CO about... two hours ago.

Jack swatted her arm back down. Will you cut that out?! he exclaimed. A gifted officer like you can never..!

That was it. Sam got mad when he called her and her life 'gifted.' If I'm so damned special, then why am I so alone? Sam yelled, no longer caring who heard them in the narrow hallway. Why is it acceptable for you to retire...

I have to retire! Jack roared. You don't!

Don't I? Sam retaliated with an equally loud voice. If I stay in the Air Force, then I can look forward to many more years of crunching numbers, filing data, inventing a zillion things, listening to Daniel ramble about a language that has been dead for thousands of years, and know that none of it will be done for you or on your orders! Do you know how that makes me feel? she asked. Awful! When I'll know that you're at home, all comfortable and retired, completely out of my reach because I won't even so much as see you anymore...

So, this is about not wanting a new Commander? Jack asked accusatorily.

No! Sam negated. This is about the fact that I won't see you anymore or that your door won't be a few doors down from mine, or that you won't be in the 'Gate room or General Hammond's office! I won't be there with you, but instead I'll be perfectly alone here surrounded by personnel who don't need me or...

Of course they need you! You're so smart...

And you're not?! Sam questioned. Then she put her fingers to her head, as if she could hold back some unwanted event with her hands. Do you know how miserable I would be to know that you're not here? I can just as easily do the same damned thing in the private sector as I do here, and so can you! The difference is that we could still be doing it together! And that makes all the difference in the world... Don't you get it? She searched his face for dawning understanding. I'll still be with you if I retire, too. I won't be so alone anymore. She ended her tirade in a softer voice, and stared up at him, almost begging him for his agreement, his comprehension to her plans for the future, for them. She willed him to understand her words, to read her mind if he could, and above all, she refused to give in to any feelings of embarrassment that she had opened up so emotionally for the first time in... Had she ever behaved this way?

Jack stared at her, confused, chastised, astonished, and utterly flummoxed. So you retired in order to be with me? Jack reiterated as his confusion only grew.

Suddenly and just as uncharacteristically, Sam burst into tears, letting the water fall from her eyes in an unchecked rain of liquid. This whole situation was going from bad to worse. You idiot! she half yelled, half sobbed, and she stamped her foot in frustration. Usually, she showed way too much control to do something as juvenile as stamp her foot, but she was beyond control right now. I love you, and if you think I'm going to let you leave just like that, just because you have to retire...

What? Jack gaped like a fish out of water. Wh... What did you say?

I called you an idiot, Sam told him, covering her mouth with the fingers that she had pushed against her forehead only moments ago.

No, not that! Jack exclaimed in irritation, cutting through the air between them like a scythe. After that! You said...

I love you, Sam repeated firmly. And if you think I'm just going to stand back like a... she floundered, searching her mind for a proper comparison. ... like a... She couldn't think of one, so she just continued, ... and just let you go like... Her voice broke off.

Jack closed the distance between them, appearing as menacing as a convalescening man could. He grabbed her upper arms in a grip that was softer than she had expected, given his intense expression, then it slid into obvious relief. God, Sam, do you have any idea how long I've waited to hear you say that? Then, he gently pulled on her shoulders. And you wait until we're in the SGC hallway to say it? he asked in mock incredulity. In a far more affectionate tone, he ordered, Come here. He sighed. You crazy girl... he fondly murmured against her hair. I love you, too, only... the regulations...

I know! Sam sobbed into his BDU jacket. I was in the same mess... But not anymore... That's why I chose to retire, too.

Jack's grip on her tightened. It wasn't necessarily a clasp of a romantic nature, but one more desperate as he continued with the course of action he had chosen. Oh, thank you, Sam, thank you! he whispered, his eyes squeezed shut tight to hold what could be seen as an evil world at bay. God... he swore, then couldn't go on as emotion welled up to overpower even his control.

You don't have to explain anything, Sir, I just...

Drop the 'Sir,' Sam. I'm not your 'Sir' or anybody's 'Sir' now, thank goodness. He paused before he continued, savoring what he was about to say. His whisper was pleading and beseeching, and frantic... Not at all like the commanding Jack O'Neill of the past. I just want to love you and worship you like you deserve...

Sam's low voice cut into his comment, I'm not a Goa'uld, Jack. Please don't worship me like I'm a god or something...

You are a god to me, Jack corrected. All shiny and perfect and magnificent... His lips connected gently with her head, burying themselves in her blond hair. ... and marvelous... he said, and tenderly kissed her forehead. ... and so intelligent... Here, he kissed her nose. ... and exactly what I've spent years looking for... He touched his lips to hers, just tracing their outline before breaking apart from her and rubbing her cheek with his hand. I adore you! he claimed, then embraced her again, hard, as if he might lose her if he let go.

Sam buried herself in his arms, filled her nose with his smell that hadn't been eradicated completely by his time spent in the infirmary. She clung to him as if the Stargate was going to yank him away from her unless she kept him grounded and at her side.

Suddenly, Walter, of the 'Gate room tech crew, walked by them as they hugged in the corridor on level twenty-eight. It's about time, he commented, eyeing them. He mumbled more under his breath about the SGC not being a TV show, where things always worked out in the end, and for not taking things for granted, and... Then he turned, and called down the corridor, Hey, and that cake that's supposed to be a secret... tell Daniel or Teal'c to save a piece for me!

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