Disclaimer: Don't own the characters. Don't own the movie Continuum. Or the show Stargate, SG-1, come to think of it. Guess you could say that I don't own anything. (Shrug) Such is life.

The Calm Before the Storm

by Linda Bindner

A knock sounded on the front door to the apartment that this reality's version of The Air Force had appropriated for the Samantha Carter that they had unexpectedly had to deal with.

Sam remembered those first few awful days in this reality that she'd had to handle as she set the book that she had been reading aside, and shuddered. She reeled in her suddenly stampeding emotions and called out as a self distraction, Coming! Then she whispered, For crying out loud! when her knee smacked the side of the coffee table set before her living room sofa as she rose to hurry to the door.

The one thing that she'd had the toughest time handling was 'The Death,' of course. Jack's death. And now she had remembered. Damn.

She still recalled the vision of him lying on the floor of the Tok'ra stronghold, gasping for breath, a stunned look in his eyes as his red blood seeped out of his chest to pool on the hard floor under him. Sam had screamed a silent, agonized No! in her mind, but that was all. The chatter of the bullets that followed a split second after Ba'al had stabbed General O'Neill with a previously concealed knife barely registered in her conscience. The Tok'ra, her team mates... everyone... stood helplessly nearby as she threw herself onto the floor beside Jack. But no matter what she did, what she wanted to do, it wasn't enough. She watched as the light slowly faded from his eyes.

Sam's heart gave another painful shiver and a twist inside her chest just as the unknown person knocked on her door a second insistent time. With a supreme effort of will, Sam banished the image from her mind, knowing that she would probably cry later after the unknown person had disappeared, and she had to swallow the lump in her throat even now, a year after 'The Death' that she had witnessed.

Still valiently trying to force her heaving emotions under control, Sam grabbed the doorknob and pulled.

Can I..? she began to automatically inquire, the same casual greeting she used every time she answered her door, but her voice died in a strangled moment on the 'h' of 'help.' The next instant she couldn't quite hold back the scream that issued out of her mouth when she realized who was standing in the corridor outside her apartment.

Sam stumbled back, the scream on her lips, her heart pounding, tears now pooling in her eyes, and her fingers covering the sob that tore from her mouth.

The next instant, the normally collected Samantha Carter fell back against the wall in her front hallway. She closed her eyes to shut out the terrifying image she was seeing as she continued to scream. She felt hands on her upper arms, and her body was being shaken hard, back and forth. She wilted the second the shaking stopped, then slid down her wall to helplessly sit on the floor in a puddle of congealed fear.

Hey! came a loud call in her ear. The sound seemed an inch from her ear, but the logical part of her mind that was already reasserting itself told her that the call probably hadn't been all that loud. It just seemed that way to her.

Sam squeezed her eyes even tighter and gulped in a steadying breath as her guest's hands helped to steady her where she'd landed leaning against the wall.

Ma'am! came the urgent call again, the voice doing the shouting sounding so familiar to her. Ma'am! it called a third time. Uh... Ms. Carter!

Then Sam was aware of a glass of water shoved in her hand and the hovering face of Claire Pinistal, her neighbor from across the hall. A wet wash cloth was passed over her face, the coolness sinking into her skin and finally registering in her numbed mind.

I'm all right, Sam whispered. She took a final shuddering breath, and pushed the solicitous hands away from her. No, I'm fine, I'm fine, she said again, wishing that she could back away from those 'helpful' hands and fingers, but the wall behind her prevented an easy escape.

You're as pale as a sheet, came the tiniest of arguments from Claire. I think...

No, I'm fine, really, Sam repeated, doing her utmost to imbue her voice with a strength that she didn't feel yet. She tried out a smile, and though the gesture that she managed to give was tremulous, it was genuine.

Claire looked down at her in doubt. You're fine? She sounded like she didn't believe anything Sam had just said. You're sure? she asked, now sounding completely dubious.

Sam tried to ignore her neighbor's obvious doubt and smile a second time, adding a nod for good measure. I'm so sorry for scaring you. I was just surprised for a moment... that's all.

Claire looked like she still wasn't wholly convinced, but Sam's visitor, who was kneeling just behind Claire, spoke for the first time in several seconds. If it will make you feel better, I can stay with her, he offered, turning to face Claire. I needed to talk to S... anyway, he lamely ended, stumbling slightly over the name, showing that he wasn't even certain what to call her!

Claire's gaze switched over to him. I've never seen you here before, she doubtfully began, but Sam intervened.

It's all right, Claire, I'll be fine, she said, then added, Truly, when the neighboring woman hesitated. I've known... Her own gaze swiveled to the man kneeling beside her, and she forced herself to say, Jack... She had to take a calming breath after saying that name aloud for the first time in a year. I've known Jack for years, she again said. And I'm fine, really, she babbled, now trying to rise. We'll be fine... thanks.

Claire still appeared unconvinced. You're sure? she asked.

Sam again smiled. Her third attempt to convince the woman worked, for Claire gave a small shrug, then stood. Okay, she agreed and handed the washcloth to Jack. But if you need anything.., she began to say.

Jack grinned up at her. Don't worry, he nonchalantly said. She'll scream again.

Claire snorted a hesitant giggle out her nose, but said, Well... I'll just go...

Bye, Sam said, And thanks, she added as Claire calmly closed the front door behind her.

This left Sam alone with Jack... The Jack O'Neill of this reality, she amended her thoughts. The Jack O'Neill who hardly knew her. Or hardly wanted to.

He pulled back his warm fingers from where his right hand still wrapped around her upper arms, and stared her straight in her face. Hi, he said, sounding only slightly worried now.

Sam had to clear her throat before she could say a greeting back to him. Hi.

He passed her the wet washcloth in his left hand. Here, he awkwardly said, then after a quiet moment helped her to her to rise to her feet.

Sam pressed the cloth to her forehead and took a soothing drink of the water that Clair had given her.

You okay now? Jack asked. I mean, really? came the amendment a second later.

Sam sloshed water over her shaking hand when she took another sip of the liquid, but she was able to more firmly put his fears to rest. I said that I was fine, and I am. She smiled at him. You just surprised me, really.

Really? he repeated, his voice doubtful again.

Sam knew that he didn't wholly believe her. So she explained to him, I knew you... before. It was obvious that she was referring to the time prior to her coming to this timeline. Again she smiled at him, all the while thinking how surreal it was to see him again in what was basically the capacity of a stranger, at least to him. I'm sorry... I didn't mean to frighten you, she tried to soothe. She took a deep breath. I'm all right now. To prove her words as true, she pushed her way a fraction of an inch off the wall behind her to stand on her own two feet.

You got it? Jack asked, and the solicitude in his voice almost undid all the barriers that Sam had managed to erect between them. Except he didn't know that, for she nodded and smiled a pretend smile even as her heart shattered into a million tiny pieces inside her chest.

But the sensation wasn't anything she wasn't used to. Sam sighed once more. Was there something you needed? she asked, and added a hesitant, Sir?

Sam expected the man before her to begin talking about the time he'd found her and Colonel Mitchell on the ice in Antarctica a year ago, but instead Jack just eyed her in sudden suspicion. Finally he softly inquired, How did we know each other? From before? he added.

It was his tone, one so gentle, yet one reserved for their later years together that proved a particular challenge for Sam to withstand now. Though it was a tone that she associated with the man who'd come to be known to her in their last years, it was also a tone that was so achingly familiar to her now that she had to painfully swallow the lump in her throat before she could answer him.

Sam paused one final second. Just how was she going to make that answer? she asked herself. Should she lie? Should she tell him the truth? Could she do that without ugly repercussions to the timeline she found herself in? Would it matter? After all, she'd been told that in this timeline Sam Carter was dead, so it shouldn't matter just what she decided to tell him or not tell him.

But the authorities never found her body, came the tiny voice that she saved for arguments with herself.

Sam blinked, the argument still resounding in her mind. But the Jack of this timeline was still staring at her, waiting for her to reply.

Sam gave him another blink of her eyes. Then in a sudden change of the subject, accused, You never told me why you came here.

No, I didn't. Jack sighed, a tiny exhalation of breath that washed over her face. Sam smelled coffee... and lunch. And that was a nice dodge, ma'am, he perfunctorily announced. You didn't tell me what we mean to each other, either. He squinted at her. Are you avoiding telling me?

Without warning, Sam's eyes filled with sorrowful tears. Crap! She thought she was over crying for her own Jack O'Neill! But a fresh wave of the desire to wrap her arms around him one more time accosted her like she was being slugged with a flying baseball bat. You were.., she choked. You were... leader of my team, she vaguely explained.

Jack's brows rose, and for a moment, he reminded her more strongly of Teal'c than anyone else that she had met in this new reality she was in. Sudden longing to see Teal'c again also accosted her. She fought it off as he continued speaking. You were military? he inquired a bit incredulously.

Sam nodded, tears now streaming down her cheeks even as she tried to hold them back. Air Force, she said without hesitation now. You led SG-1 for seven years, then I led it for one, then Mitchell for two more years. I was a Colonel by the end of it all. You were a General. She did a slight shake of her head. I mean, the other you, the you in my timeline, was a General.

There went his eyebrows again in pleased surprise. General! he breathed, clearly enjoying the thought of that possible future promotion for him in this timeline according to the look of pleasure on his face. But then his stare turned more inquisitive again. But that's not all we were to each other, is it? he asked. Just CO and team member. Very few people react like this to an old CO, he pointed out.

Sam gave her head a slight shake, unable to voice an answer. When she swallowed once more, she whispered, We were good friends.

Friends? he doubtfully queried, eyeing her. The truth, he demanded this time. I need to know. I've been thinking about you almost non stop since I met you a year ago. It's gotten so bad recently that when I got distracted by thinking about you again on my last mission, two of my men got hurt. One's got a broken rib, and another has a dislocated collarbone because I wasn't watching either of them the way I should have been. Went to that Mitchell guy.., Jack awkwardly began. His house first, but he wasn't home, so I decided to come right to the source: you. He pierced her with his gaze again. So... What gives?

But Sam gave another shake of her head. I'm afraid that if I tell you, it might change your future in this time. After all, you said that your son is fine in this timeline, and in mine, he's been dead for over ten years. She sniffed. So there are differences.

Jack gave Sam an odd expression, a look of a coming confession. I... uh... didn't exactly... He sighed and hung his head so that he stared at the floor for a second instead of at her. He quietly said, My kid's alive, sure, but I... uh... haven't seen him for months.

Sam hadn't expected to hear that! For... months?! she breathlessly echoed him.

Jack nodded. And when I ran into you guys, I hadn't seen him at least six months before that. Some of that was my fault, he mournfully explained. Missions and all. Then he added, But some of that was because he just doesn't want to see me. Not after I got divorced from Sara. At her puzzled glance at him, he added, His mom.

Sam gave a nod of understanding, thinking that she didn't want to assume that Sara was the mother of Jack's son, whatever his name was... Had Daniel mentioned the name 'Charlie' to Jack back when they'd been on that submarine a year ago? Sam couldn't recall now.

She reminded herself of what Jack had just said, about his team members becoming injured while he thought of her. I sure didn't mean to... I don't want to be the reason people are getting hurt, she said to him.

Jack's eyes squinched shut again, almost as if he wanted to believe what she was saying, but... You still haven't told me, he reminded her. Timeline or not, I need to know. What are we to each other in your timeline? He went on to say, Maybe if you tell me, I can fix whatever's got me so... so preoccupied... and can get on with my life after I fix this. So tell me, please.

Sam was astonished. She had rarely heard Jack O'Neill say the word 'please,' even in her timeline, even in the their last years together.

It was his entreaty that finally did her in. It had been so long since she'd been able to resist him anyway, she reasoned. There could be little harm in telling him, could there? And something good may come from this information. Though Sam couldn't imagine what form that 'good' might come in, but... In a whisper, she divulged, Jack O'Neill was my husband.

Two minutes went by as they stared at each other.

Sam made a second confession, And right before Mitchell and I ended up in Antarctica, I watched him... She almost couldn't finish what she was saying. The word, die, came out of her mouth on a final breath of air that was mostly a sigh of pain.

Sam took a shuddering breath to go on, And when I saw you just now... I couldn't help it... I reacted inside like I'd got you back... But then you treated me like you didn't even know me...

Crap, Jack softly said to her, finally understanding something of how hard this must have been for her. I'm sorry... I didn't know.

More tears blurred her eyesight. How could you? Sam whispered in a distraught voice. It wasn't your fault.

Jack's eyes crunched together once more. Married? he asked. Sam nodded. You and me? he asked, pointing at her, then at himself with his index finger. Sam nodded again, but remained mute. Wow, Jack breathed. That's spanglin, he said.

Sam shot him a confused look through the wet in her eyes when he said his last word.

Jack did a double take. Oh. I mean, that's cool, he said, then added, Groovy? Gnarm?

Sam understood. Ah. Then she sniffed, sighed, and made a monumental effort to stop her tears. Sorry about the... She gestured at herself, mentioning what an emotional mess she was in without saying anything specific.

It's all right, he said, then barked a laugh. But I understand why you screamed when you saw me just now, though, he said. You must have thought you were seeing things, like ghosts or goblins or devils or something.

Sam had to shrug. You are pretty ghostly, she retorted.

Am not, he said in an automatic-sounding response.

Are too, she just as instinctively answered.

Ar... Jack abruptly stopped. This is something you two always did, he announced then. This thing of 'are' and 'are not.' Sam nodded. Okay... stopping here. The last thing he wanted to do was cause her flashbacks that in turn might cause her more pain.

Sam sighed, and brushed her tears away. I'd offer something to you from the kitchen, but I'm out of almost everything. And I do have plans to run to the store later.., she apologetically said, and sniffed one final sniff.

Jack grinned, showing her his dimple, something her timeline's version of him had done for no one but her. He had to smile with his lips positioned just so in order to get it to show at all, she knew. That's all right, he assured her, unaware of what she was thinking. Then he reared back as an idea hit him. Hey, you want to go out for a burger or somethin'?

A burger? Sam doubtfully repeated him. I don't know... she hesitantly began.

Not as a date or anything, he assured quickly, in case that was what she was worried about. Maybe... As friends? he carefully asked.

But I don't know you, Sam protested. How can we be friends?

Come on, he commanded, hauling her even further away from wall at her back. You'll like me once you get to know me, he assured her.

Sam smiled at the slightly familiar words coming from him. She hesitated, but then he tugged her forward and out of her apartment. Inexplicably, Sam followed.

* * *

Sam had promised to call him, but didn't call the next day. Jack decided to call her up, instead, but decided to do it after seeing the news break on the TV that had interrupted his viewing of his favorite show, The Adventures of the Impsons.

He saw the odd looking space ship for the first time on the TV news break, and he suddenly knew why Sam hadn't called him. She wasn't going to call him. She didn't have time. She was gone.

The words that he had heard her or one of her friends stammer at him when they had first met came to his mind like a wisp of a memory, 'Your planet is in great danger.'

Well, he figured that at least she didn't call him to tell him 'I told you so.'

The story of more breaking news came after the report about the ship flying through the skies above the Northern city it had been spotted in. The phone rang, and Jack knew it was his CO, calling him to tell him that his leave was suddenly canceled and he would have to return to base. But his attention was too focused on this second story to answer the phone just yet.

One hand on the phone, his attention on his TV, Jack heard, And in another breaking story, we can now confirm the sudden and unexpected recovery of astronaut Captain Samantha Carter. She apparently was ejected from the shuttle Endeavor just before it crashed into the ocean off the coast of Africa two years ago. She suffered several broken bones at the time, and as she couldn't explain to the tribe who took her in due to a language barrier just who she was, she was unable to return to the U.S. until recently, when a visiting English-speaking relative of one of the tribesmen was able to understand her request to go home. The two then walked almost one hundred miles to the nearest town with a phone, where she called for help. The English-speaking relative's identity is undisclosed at this time, but there are unsubstantiated rumors that his name is Tal'c... There was a mutter off screen, and then the news castor blushed and corrected herself, Sorry... make that 'Teal'c'... Tribal names... Apologies again to Mr. Teal'c. Captain Carter is now resting at her parents' home in Spokane, Washington.

Jack got a germ of an idea as he heard that last tidbit of information. Maybe after this current crisis was over, he would be paying a visit to Spokane...

The End

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